Pro Tip | Why calling is still key

publication date: May 9, 2019
author/source: Ann Rosenfield

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a donor. She had made her first $5000 gift to a charity. She believed in the cause, she felt the charity had done great work. But she was mad and I mean hopping mad. Why? She said she hadn't heard from the charity in over a year.

Without revealing her name, I called up a colleague who worked at that same charity and relayed the concern. The colleague said "but we emailed all our $5000 level at least 13 times over the last 12 months." When I checked, they had only emailed, they had not sent any snail mail and they had never called.

They felt they had stewarded her well. She felt ignored. What's a time-strapped fundraiser to do?

This charity already ran at least two donor stewardship events each year and this donor had been invited to both. The missing execution piece was the old fashioned phone call.

Here are some pro tips for maximizing your next event, using the phone.

1) Block time in your calendar to make phone calls about two weeks before your event.

2) When running your list of invitees for your event, be sure when you pull the list to pull

  • Donor ID
  • name
  • salutation
  • address
  • city
  • postal
  • ALL email fields (the donor may have more than one)
  • All phone number fields (the donor may have more than one)

(3) And, of course, you made sure that you marked their donor record that you sent this invite, right?)

4) Send out your invitation six weeks in advance of your event (snail mail invite), 5 weeks in advance (eVite)

5) Have an electronic copy of your invitation ready

6) Two and a half weeks before the date of your event, check the RSVPs.

7) Prioritize which donors you want to be sure attend the event. Priority donors could include donors who you are cultivating, donors you are thanking, people who are planned gift prospects. You might want to get a second opinion from your in-house prospect researcher or colleague on who to call. 

8) Two weeks before the event, pick up the phone (remember the part where you blocked this time to do this?) and call them.

9) Do any follow-ups immediately - resend the eVite (if they don't remember receiving it), send any appropriate follow-up notes, and (of course) record any updates into their donor record.

That personal touch, that phone call, helps connect me to the donor in a real, and immediate way. For example, in a recent call with a donor she told me she had to leave soon to go to a film festival. Now, I know to invite her to any movie programs we have. Other donors have mentioned family events so I have sent them a "congratulations on the birth of your baby" card or a condolence card. The call is a personal touch.

Email is great but like any tool, it has its limits. One of the biggest challenges I face as a fundraiser is having a reason to stay in touch with a donor over the long haul. And one of the easiest, and classic ways to stay in touch is to invite a donor to an event. But the call adds so much value - and each call is time well spent.

Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE is the editor of Hilborn Charity eNews and has been calling donors for over 20 years. No one has hung up on her yet.

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