The good folks at Bloomerang conducted a brilliant little experiment recently, making $5 online contributions to 50 Indianapolis area non-profit organizations to see how they would be acknowledged and engaged as new donors. They produced, without comment or analysis, a wonderful summary outlining the result:
In our fundraising field we give lip service to testing assumptions and researching best practices. Almost all of us are trained in something other than raising funds, and a lifetime of hunches and wisdom (misguided or not) influence the decisions we make and the formulations of our plans. So I love this sort of experiment. We need a ton more of it.
Perhaps $25 might be a better gift threshold for analysis. But let’s accept a premise that $5 is a reasonable first gift. My instinct is gift size wouldn’t have mattered in terms of how quickly, accurately, and genuinely gifts were acknowledged. We, as an industry, are doing a bizarrely terrible job stewarding our first time donors and poorly in general in demonstrating joyful gratitude for gifts of all size.
Let me tell you a Fundamental Secret to Success in Fundraising. Every contributor (special event attendee included) should be acknowledged by phone. 100% of them. This should be the easiest thing in the world to do but hardly anyone does it.
Not one organization in the experiment called Bloomerang to thank them. Surprised? I make around 12-15 charitable gifts every year from $100-$1000 and I DID NOT RECEIVE one phone call of thanks in 2013, even from personal friends working at organizations, clients where I made a gift, nor organizations where I am directly involved as a board member or volunteer.
Consider this for a moment. Not one phone call of thanks. Zero.
Fundraisers are hard working professionals. I get that. Lots to do and too little time to do it. But saying thank you is the easiest point of entry to the challenging work of capturing the attention of our Donors. It is a great way to build rapport, invite donors to upcoming events, and learn more specifically about their interests. It also has the lovely side benefit of conditioning donors to accepting our phone calls so that when you call next time to solicit they will answer.
And hardly anyone is doing it. Some Pro-Tips for getting started:
- Pick up the Phone more often. Sadly, we are starting to forget phone etiquette and the pleasures of human conversation in these days of face tweeting. Call more of your donors, prospects, vendors, family and friends more often. This is ultimately a time saver as a quick two minute call can replace a series of ten emails.
- Prioritize by gift size and divide up the work. Your CEO can call board members. The Director can call donors above $1,000 while your Development Manager gifts under $1,000. Get Board Members involved for twice the calls. What is more important than this of all the work you do? Don’t Lie.
- Make it a regular part of your work week. In my career I’ve always set aside Friday afternoon for thank you calls. For whatever reason there aren’t many external or internal meetings on a Friday afternoon (unless you are getting sacked). Come back from lunch and hit those phones. End your week on a high note.
- There is nothing wrong with Leaving a Message. Maybe they screened you. It will be a pleasant surprise when the donor listens to your simple, honest, sincere, timely thank you.
- Track calls a part of your Prospect Management Program. What must be accomplished must be measured and benchmark calls in tracked metrics along with personal visits, proposals developed, and cultivation moves.
My Grandmother used to send me $5 for my birthday, and my mom would compel at threat of grave consequence the written composition of a thank you card and call. Every year. For $5. Guess who generously funded my undergraduate tuition?
Don’t be an ingrate. Call your Donors.