Funding Change Consulting Blog Advice

Anatomy of a “Thank You” Call: Donor Gratitude Series (part 2 of 4)

A thank you call should feel like a pleasant surprise, not an interrogation. Donor gratitude Series.

Okay, so you read the introductory post in my Donor Gratitude Series, right? And hopefully you’re more convinced than ever that you must make “thank you” calls an integral part of your year-end campaign.

But what does the perfect “thank you” call look like? And who should make and receive these calls? Funny you should ask…

The vast majority of these calls will be nothing more than a quick “thank you.” In fact, many will be messages left on voicemail.

First things first: who should you call?

Ideally, every single donor will receive a call of gratitude from someone at your organization. But I know we’re in a far from ideal world. So, if you can’t call everyone who gives, who’s the top priority?

Prioritize your calls in this order:

  • All donors giving their very first gift must get a call—regardless of gift size.
  • After that, call anyone who increases their donation over what they gave last time.
  • Next, call those who are giving their second (or third or fourth) gift that year.
  • Then, decide on a cutoff point based on a dollar amount for the rest.

And don’t forget your recurring donors who give quarterly or monthly. These are some of your most dedicated supporters, even if they’re “only” giving $5/month. They deserve a “thank you” call at least once a year!

Who should make these calls?

The best people to make these calls are board members. “Thank you” calls are also a great way to get board members who are reluctant to fundraise to dip their toe in the fundraising pool.

Having staff call is better than nothing. But getting a call from someone who’s not a paid employee is ideal.

Why? Not receiving a paycheck gives board members a moral high ground that even the most committed staff lack. Board members are driven by the mission, and they’re taking time out of their personal schedules to call. That sends a powerful message.

What should you say when you call?

Not every call sounds the same, but it usually starts like this:

  • Hi, this is Tina. I’m a board member at Penny’s Puppy Haven. I wanted to call and thank you again for all the wonderful support you’ve given. It makes such a difference to everyone who calls on us for help, and I wanted to tell you personally that we are grateful for you.

After this, you’ve got to pause for a second or two. One of the following things is likely to happen next…

  1. The donor will be silent, caught off guard, or openly confused about what to do or say.
  2. The donor will say something in response but won’t be particularly effusive or seem interested in chatting.
  3. The donor will say something wonderful about your organization or about how much they appreciate the call.

If it’s #1 or #2, simply say:

  • Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I just wanted to tell you how much we appreciate you. Thanks again for being such a generous person. Have a wonderful day/evening!

Then move on to the next call.

If it’s #3 and the supporter is particularly engaged or enthusiastic, you can have a short conversation about their connection to the organization, why they give, etc. For example, you can say—“I don’t want to take up much of your time but would you be willing to share with me what inspired you to first give to Penny’s Puppy Haven?”

You can also ask things like:

  • Why does this cause matter to you?
  • What interests you most about our work?
  • Would you like to be involved with us in other ways beyond being a donor?

But gauge their interest level and don’t overstay your welcome.
 And always err on the side of asking less rather than more. These calls should be a pleasant experience for the donor—you don’t want them to feel like they’re being peppered with questions.

What if the person doesn’t answer the phone?

Leave a message! The most important part of leaving an effective voicemail is to write out something close to what you’re going to say before you start calling. That way you won’t forget anything important or ramble on. We’ve all received those messages and they’re not the most enjoyable.

Just jot down a quick script like…

  • Hi, this is Tina. I’m a volunteer with Penny’s Puppy Haven. I’m sorry I missed you. I was just calling to say thank you again for all the wonderful support you’ve given the rescue over the past three years. It makes such a difference for all the sweet creatures who come through our doors and find their forever homes because of you. And I wanted to tell you personally how grateful we are. There’s no need to call me back but if you ever need anything from us, please don’t hesitate to call the main office at 617-000-000. Thank you again!

After the call…tracking your results.

Whether you just leave a voicemail or have a 20-minute conversation with a donor, you want to make some quick notes on the results of your calls.

Results like…

  • Did you talk to someone or leave a voicemail?
  • How did the donor respond to being called?
  • Did you learn anything about why they gave?
  • Are there changes or additions to their contact info (wrong number, email address, etc.)?

Create a quick tracking form that can be filled out after each call so everyone knows what information to record.

All notes from callers need to be put in the database. This is critical for two reasons:

  1. You can use it to personalize future communications and focus more on the areas of your work that a particular subset of donors is most interested in.
  2. You can use it to measure the impact of these kinds of calls and learn what’s working and what’s not. For example, how is giving next year different among people who received thank you calls vs. those who didn’t? Are the results different between those who actually spoke to someone vs. those who just received a voicemail message? And so forth.

Your board members and volunteers may be amazed themselves about how fulfilling these phone calls can be.  There’s often a delighted surprise in your donor’s voice when they realize you aren’t calling to ask for anything. Plus, as you may remember from my last post, this type of call has been proven to increase gift size and donor retention.

Delivering gratitude really is a win-win for all involved!


Tina Cincotti, owner of Funding Change, is a donor communications expert and general nonprofit nerd.
December 4, 2018

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