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How to make donor thank you calls an integral part of your process

Posted May 25, 2022 by Virginia Davidson

donor thank you calls

For many organizations, donor thank you calls fall under the category of “nice to do,” not “have to do.” You may be scrambling to acknowledge gifts, and thank you calls seem impossible to fit in. Yet some organizations have successfully incorporated thank you calls into their acknowledgment process. I wanted to know how they managed to do that. To learn more, I spoke with Kat Read, Senior Manager for Leadership Giving at GrubStreet in Boston.

As context, it’s helpful to know that GrubStreet makes a thank you call to every donor. You read that correctly. It doesn’t matter the size of the gift. Every donor gets a thank you call. “It sounds intimidating,” Kat told me, “but it’s a really important and joyful part of the process.”

How does GrubStreet make donor thank you calls for every gift received?

Kat and her team regularly pull a list of recent gifts, assign a caller to each one, and try to complete those calls within 2-3 days of when GrubStreet received the gift. Kat notes that by making the calls so soon after the gift was made, the call serves two functions: It thanks the donor for their support, and it provides peace of mind to the donor by confirming their gift was received.

To get all those calls made, the development staff receives help from volunteers. When someone expresses interest in volunteering with GrubStreet, the staff lets them know that thank you calls is an area in which they need help. Board members pitch in, too.

How do the callers know what to say?

Though the calls aren’t scripted, Kat and her team provide talking points that callers can use as a guide. Those talking points include expressing thanks and asking the donor what motivated them to make their gift.

Kat recommends that you frontload the reason for the call. By telling the donor right away that you’re calling to say thank you, it alleviates their concern about spam or robo calls.

Staff and volunteers are also trained to feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out and get back to you” if the donor introduces a topic they can’t address in the moment.

What if they get voicemail?

When making donor thank you calls, it’s ok to leave a message! Kat acknowledges that many calls go to voicemail, in which case you should leave a message of thanks. There’s no need to call back again to try and get someone to pick up. Once a message is left, the thank you call is complete.

How do they track the donor thank you calls?

Calls are documented in their donor management system, so it’s clear the call has been made on a particular date. They also note any important details from the call. If the call warrants a follow-up action, Kat and her team note that, too.

Tip: If you’re using Little Green Light, you can use contact reports to document thank you calls and add related tasks for any follow up that you’ll need to tend to.

What if someone has phone anxiety?

Making phone calls isn’t for everybody. If it’s not for you, that’s okay. That’s where volunteers, board members, and other staff members can jump in. But Kat assured me that in all the phone calls made by GrubStreet, they’ve never encountered an uncomfortable situation. “You’re purely calling to say thank you,” she reminded me.

How do they have the time?

In Kat’s experience, donor thank you calls don’t take nearly as much time as you think they will. Often, you’re leaving a quick message. Even when you get someone on the phone, the conversation is usually a brief conveyance of thanks. GrubStreet prioritizes the calls, viewing them as equally as important as sending a donor acknowledgment, and finds they are a valuable point of human-to-human connection with donors. As Kat pointed out, “You can’t mail merge a phone call.”

Conclusion

Incorporating thank you calls into your donor acknowledgment process is a valuable use of time. By following the steps outlined in this article, you may find that, like Kat, you even look forward to making those calls. It’s important to “take a moment for gratitude,” Kat says, and in that way, the calls aren’t just beneficial for the donors—they’re meaningful to the staff and volunteers who make them, too.

Thanks to Kat for sharing her experience with us!

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