What to Do After Your Appeal Hits the Mail: Direct Mail Bootcamp (part 4 of 4)

Don't leave money on the table.

Are you sending a fundraising appeal but not doing any follow-up?

Then you’re missing an opportunity to personally connect with your donors…and leaving a lot of money on the table.

Follow-up can take many forms: calls, postcards, emails, holiday cards…the more personal, the better. Aside from seeing donors face-to-face, the most effective kind of communication is a phone call. Other methods can supplement your calling campaign…but you’ll get the best results from calls.

Calling supporters allows you to:

  • Thank them for their past support,
  • Confirm they received your letter, and update them if they didn’t,
  • Answer any questions they have,
  • Confirm that you have the best address and phone number,
  • Get permission to add them to your email list, and
  • Ask them to renew their support, of course!

The goal of these calls is to engage the donor in conversation, to get them talking. Be prepared with questions. You can ask things like:

  • “What motivated you to make your first donation to us?”
  • “What questions or suggestions do you have about the work we are doing?”
  • “What part of our work is most interesting to you?”

Some will be chattier than others. Try not to take this personally.

Regardless of how each call goes, be sure to always end by thanking the person for taking the time to speak with you.

When should you start calling?

Plan to start your follow-up calls 1-2 weeks after your mailing arrives at people’s home. This will give people a chance to respond on their own before you start your calls. If your letter went out more than two weeks ago, it’s not too late to call. Just be prepared for fewer people to remember seeing it. When people donate before you start your calls, be sure to take them off your list so they aren’t re-solicited. They should get a “thank you” call though! Depending on the size of your list and how many people you can enlist to help, 1-2 weeks of calling should be enough time to call everyone.

Who should make the calls, and from where?

Board members make the ideal callers but also enlist help from other committed volunteers, staff, former board and staff, longtime donors, and so on. The more calling you can do together as a group, the better. However, I’ve known many organizations to have quite successful phone banks with board members scattered all over, calling on their own. Whether over the phone or in person, you will need to do a short orientation with everyone to go over the materials and answers any questions.

What time should you call?

The best times to call are Sun-Thurs from 6-8:30 pm, with the last hour being the most important. Even people who work late or have plans after work are often home by 7:30 or 8 pm. Sunday afternoons are also a great time to reach people at home.

How often should you call?

Encourage your callers to try to reach everyone on their list until successful or until they have tried on three different days (and they should try more than once each “calling shift,” if time allows). You don’t need to leave a message every time you call. A message can be left the first day saying why you are calling and that you’ll try to reach them again at a better time. If you continue calling and are unable to get them, you can also leave one final message the very last time you try to call saying that you appreciate their past support, that they make a difference, and that you hope they’ll consider giving again before December 31st.

What information do I need to give my callers?

Provide your callers with a script including how to respond to common things donors will say, such as…

  • “Yes, I can do that.”
  • “No.”
  • “I can’t talk now.”
  • “I’ll think about it.”
  • “I’ll send something.”
  • “I haven’t had time to look at the letter.”
  • “What letter? I don’t think I got any letter.”
  • “I don’t like these kinds of calls.”
  • “I don’t have any money to give right now.”
  • “I already gave this year.”

Be sure to include a sample voicemail message as part of your script because leaving a succinct message off the cuff can be harder than you might think!

You also want to give everyone a form to track their responses, some general talking points about your organization, a copy of the letter that was sent, and a list of names to call with the “ask” amount and the donor’s giving history.

Lastly, have your callers be prepared to resend the solicitation letters to those who don’t recall getting them. This is a great opportunity to confirm that you have the correct address. You can have your callers do the mailing themselves or create a checkbox on the tracking form and have someone in your office take care of it the following day. But be sure to send it the next day. You want the supporter to get the letter before they forget they were called.

Is there anything else you should do after the calls?

Yes, I’m so glad you asked! After each round of calls, your caller should send a personal, hand-written card to each person they spoke with regardless of the result of the call. These don’t have to be long. But in this day of paid telemarketing, it’s a personal touch that tells your donors that you see them as human beings who deserve your time, attention, and gratitude.

Who gets these notes, and what should they say?

Basically, everyone gets a note of one kind or another…

If someone pledged a certain amount, thank them for that, for their time on the phone, and any other personal connections you made during the call. Include a reply envelope with your card.

If someone said that they would “send something,” “think about it,” or any other form of “maybe,” thank them for their time and for keeping your group in mind as they make their giving decisions. You can also include a reply envelope for these folks.

For people who say “no” but are friendly and receptive to the call and want to stay connected, a note in appreciation of their time and interest in remaining involved tells the donor that you care about your long-term relationship with them, not just their check.

Reiterating sincere thanks for their past support, even if they are unable to give at this time, is also incredibly important.

If you had any calls where you clearly caught someone at a bad time or had an otherwise less than ideal interaction, write a quick note of apology. Express your regret at interrupting their dinner or send them your “get well” wishes, for example.

Lastly, for those you try to call multiple times and are unable to ever reach, drop each of them a note after your very last round of calls. Tell them you’re sorry you were never able to connect, and that they can always reach so-and-so with any questions or concerns and provide their direct phone number. Also say that you hope they will continue their support and donate before the end of the year. You can even include an “ask” for a specific amount.

When the calling is complete, everyone on the list should have received a personal, handwritten card—another piece of follow-up!

One final note on people with no phone numbers…

Everyone has supporters with no phone number on their list and some people who are listed as “do not call.” If you have the resources, divvy these names up among your callers and have people send them handwritten cards as well. Or recruit someone who absolutely will not make calls but wants to help.

For people for whom you have no phone number, write them a note saying you wanted to call to follow-up on the letter you sent and answer any questions they have but you don’t have their phone number. Then, like you did for those you never reached, tell them they can always call so-and-so at their direct line and that you hope they will make a donation before the end of the year.

Notes for people who have explicitly said in that past that they don’t want to be called can be very much the same. Just start instead with, you know they prefer not to be called, you just want to follow-up on the letter and encourage them to call so-and-so at their direct line with any questions or concerns, etc.

What are you waiting for?

If you implement these strategies, the money raised from your appeal will be significantly higher than if you simply dropped a bunch of letters in the mail and hoped for the best. Good luck!

Tina Cincotti, owner of Funding Change, is a donor communications expert and general nonprofit nerd.
September 25, 2018

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