What’s the number one reason people stop donating their time or money?

They were never thanked. Terry Axelrod, the CEO of Benevon encourages you to set aside one hour a week for the sole purpose of calling your donors.

Not emailing them or writing them letters, but picking up the phone and calling them. In the midst of our current economic climate-and the severe and profound cuts that have affected many nonprofits-I can’t imagine anything more important to do, every single week of the year, than to pick up the phone and call your donors.

While most executive directors, development directors and board members are not uncomfortable speaking with people, when it comes to calling a donor, many people become reluctant to pick up the phone. They fear the donor will think they are calling to ask for more money. Here are two useful tips for what to say.

First, thank them sincerely for their gifts. “I’m calling today as a _____________ (board member, executive director, volunteer) with _____________ just to thank you for your gift. It made a huge difference to us.”

Second, give one specific example, or tell one specific story of the difference their gift meant to your organization. Let them know you really mean it. “Especially this year, when we are having to make so many other critical cuts in staff or service, your gift allowed us to work with one recently released inmate to provide an apartment, a job, and classes at the community college to help him build a new life. Many people don’t appreciate the daunting challenges that prisoners face when they are released back into the community-the temptations of their old lifestyle, the difficulty finding work after serving time. In spite of the state cuts in funding that meant we had to cut three staff in our community re-entry program and serve 200 fewer clients per year, your gift allowed us to continue serving one more person. And for that person, it will make all the difference. Furthermore, just your awareness and support for our mission here at CRP inspires us and boosts our morale in this difficult time.”

Never say thank you without telling a story of how your organization changed a life (or a community or an issue) thanks to their support.

You may be surprised when the donor wants to talk further. The easiest way to deepen or begin to build your relationship is by asking them a few simple questions.

The best question to ask them is, “What is it about our work that interests you? Is there any particular aspect or program?” That way you’ll know how to keep them engaged going forward. Another good question to ask is, “May I ask how you got interested in this issue in the first place?”

Before you know it you may find yourself engaged in a real conversation with a passionate donor.

Finally, invite them to any upcoming mission-focused events, such as a “graduation” for your program participants or a father and child birthday party night, etc.

There is absolutely no substitute for talking to your donors. Even if you get an answering machine, leave a message with the same kind of information in it-a heartfelt thank you plus one example of how your gift made a difference, and do leave your phone number for the donor to call you back if they would like to talk further.

Remember that your donors are people who already care about your work. They will be happy to talk with a real person who is working hard to fulfill the organization’s mission.

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