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A fundraiser’s timeless friend: The telephone

Group of Candid staff and partners walking around inside a library

Every fundraiser should celebrate March 3 or March 10—respectively, the day Alexander Graham Bell was born (1847) and the day he placed the first telephone call (1876, “Mr. Watson, come here I want you.”)

We have access to a dazzling and ever-growing array of technology that connects us in ways that Bell could have never imagined. But I fervently believe that the telephone—now including the landline (remember it?) and cell—remains the most versatile, convenient, and effective medium to connect with our prospects and donors and conduct our most fundamental task of nurturing relationships into genuine friendships.

For the record, let me say that I’m unapologetically an email fanatic. I send a barrage of emails each day. They serve an important purpose. But unlike the telephone conversation, they fall short in tone, emotion, immediacy, and potential of effective two-way communication in exchanging information.

There are boundless reasons for fundraisers—professional and volunteer—to routinely engage with your prospects and donors through the telephone:

  • At the top of the list is conveying gratitude for a gift of time and money. Do this as soon as possible after the gift is received.
  • Extending congratulations on a milestone in their lives or lives of loved ones—birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, births, or sharing condolences in the instances of loss—is another good reason to connect with your supporters.
  • I especially like the best practice of congratulating supporters on their “donor-versaries,” celebrating one year or other milestones of their financial support.
  • Make sure to personally reach out to a mutual acquaintance after you meet them to follow-up on your conversation..
  • Of course, this list also includes reporting on an accomplishment made possible by their gift dollars.

And the list of possibilities goes on and on.

Keep in mind that Laura Fredricks, Author of The ASK, provided this formula for productive donor conversations: They talk 75 percent of the time, and you talk 25 percent.

It’s how you use that precious 25 percent that is important. You must steer the conversation tactfully and effectively to obtain information that reveals values, interests and priorities, and other clues that can culminate in a successful solicitation.

Here are seven magic phrases from the job search firm Ladders, Inc.:

  1. “Can you say that again? I want to write it down.”
  2.  “Thanks for asking…”
  3.  “Sorry I interrupted you, I get excited. Please continue.”
  4.  “I’d love your input on something.”
  5.  “I know I shouldn’t complain…”
  6.  “Lately, I’ve been sick of video. But this was fun.”
  7.  “Do you mind if we turn the video off?”

No doubt, you have several favorites of your own.

The phone call can and should be strategically reinforced by another form of communication such as email. This can serve several purposes—summarizing key points, providing promised information, attaching a photo or graphic, and others. Video-conferencing has earned its rightful place in the hierarchy of communication but isn’t necessary all the time. Certainly, we need it for solicitations. Let the donor indicate their preferred mode of communication.

There is no perfect time of the day. Generally, I like 9 to 11 am or 2 to 4 pm in the donor’s time zone. As the friendship matures, you will learn the donor’s schedule and preferences.

I suggest scheduling a specific time of the week to ensure you make these essential calls. To magnify the impact, engage both senior management and board members to make similar calls.

The reality is that the calls will result in numerous voice mail messages being left. That’s okay. Particularly when calls are being made for primarily stewardship purposes and expressing gratitude for gifts, donors will appreciate being thanked by the leadership of the nonprofit.

In 1979, AT&T coined the advertising slogan, “Reach out and touch someone.” It reminded people to pick up the phone and call family, friends, and others important in their lives. Prospects and donors are very important in the lives of nonprofits. In fact, they’re more than that—they are crucial. So, pick up the phone regularly, and touch them!


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