We have all been there, the day a trusted and hardworking staff member comes into your office to let you know they have found a new position somewhere else. On the one hand you are excited for your colleague who is ready to take the next step in their career, but deep inside a mountain of anxiety is welling up in you. Among the many thoughts: How can I hire for this position quickly? Who is going to write our upcoming appeal? What will happen with our major donors?
Can 15 minutes a week lead to bigger donations, greater board involvement, and donor prospect research? The answer is yes, and it can be as simple as making a phone call.
I have sat through many fundraising trainings over the years and a consistent theme discussed is organizations inability to thank donors properly. This idea was reinforced for me while sitting in a room filled with nonprofit leaders; the keynote speaker asked how many people had received a hand-written note after donating to an organization, less than a quarter of the room raised their hand. He then asked how many people had received a thank you call; one person raised his hand. The speaker asked the donor about his reaction to that call; his answer was that he was surprised, and then he followed by adding that it made him feel special. He said he ended up giving another gift, and the next one was larger than the first.
Even if you are sitting at your desk with no development plan, or maybe no development staff and a stack of things to do, it is still important to make time for thank you calls. Here is the great part, it shouldn’t come from a staff member, a thank you call is more meaningful coming from a volunteer or a board member.
When I put this idea to the test with my development committee and board members, there was some hesitation (understandably, who likes to talk on the phone anymore.) I had one key volunteer who was enthusiastic, she talked about the value of what they were about to do and gave the other members tips on what to say. It was a very simple message: “I’m calling to thank you for your donation, I’m not calling to ask for anything else, we just want you to know how much it means to us.” If the person is open to more discussion than this is a great time to ask them to tell you more about why they give and to give them an opportunity to give feedback directly to the organization. If it seems like they want to get off the phone, then you politely end the call, that is it.
After performing this little experiment here is what I learned. My volunteers loved doing thank you calls!
People were kind, and surprised and said wonderful things to them and it felt good.
They didn’t have to ask for money, and yet they had contributed something very valuable to the organization.
They learned information from donors that helped establish new prospects who later increased their gifts and their involvement.
Too commonly thank you calls get lost in a sea of other items swirling at the bottom of your to-do list. That is why you need to make it a priority:
My first job out of college was at a medium sized non-profit in Boston. My starting hourly rate was less than I had made life guarding the summer before. I couldn’t have been happier to be there; it was exactly where I had wanted to be, and I was going to be doing something meaningful, something that would make a difference. I was sure I would work my way up the ladder, and I would be at the organization for years to come.
Less than a year later I was dusting off my resume....
I worked with wonderful people, my hours weren’t terrible, but I was already burnt out, and I realized that direct service was not the right fit for me. Throughout my twenties, I searched for a place where I could be my best self. Trying out for profit jobs, nonprofit jobs, and finally landing in graduate school for Broadcast Journalism at Boston University.
A leap of faith landed me in Fort Smith Arkansas for my first television job as a producer. I learned how to cut my teeth in one of the smallest media markets in the country. I wrote content; I edited, I organized my show, I made sure it all got on the air on time. About a year later I moved to Manchester, NH and began working for WMUR. Working in the news you learn how to process a lot of information and prioritize it all quickly so you can meet your deadlines. As a newscast producer, I was the manager of my show which made me responsible for every last detail. If a script was incorrect, if a live shot went wrong, if we missed a breaking news story it was up to me to figure out what happened and how we could avoid the same problem in the future. On the days when everything was falling apart at the seams, I made sure that viewers were never aware that something was wrong.
It was the greatest training ground I could have ever asked for in life. Every day was different, and I always had to be thinking several steps ahead. It was an effective way to learn how to juggle tasks, priorities, and personalities.
These skills were invaluable as I began my work as a public relations coordinator and later the Community Relations Director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. I oversaw not only the communications for this statewide nonprofit, but I also helped build the organization's development program from the ground up.
Leaving the Coalition was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I knew I would miss the many colleagues and friends whom I worked with for many years. Mostly, I knew I would miss the work that meant so much to me, but it was time for a new challenge.
For years I would have conversations with colleagues from other nonprofits and small businesses who were wearing too many different hats. I would give them advice on how they could strengthen their communications and fundraising but what they needed was manpower, not advice. I decided to hang a shingle, and I haven’t looked back since. It has been a gratifying experience to work with my clients thus far, and I hope that I am fortunate enough to do so for years to come.