As we started to make thank you calls to donors one of the longest-serving board members said the four words to never say about thanking donors:
“I can’t do this.”
Make Donor thank You Calls Even When It is Difficult
Aaron has been supporting this small arts organization for more than 30 years. He deeply loves their work and the intimate community the organization has created.

Ask Aaron about ANY of the people who attend performances or give money and he can tell you their story, names of their children and grandchildren, and much more. Unfortunately, most of those stories have NOT yet been captured into a database. But that’s another blog post for another day.

Back to this talented, passionate, organization.

They JUST recovered from weathering tough financial storms. The exciting news is THIS year they will end the year in the black for the first time in 3 years.

After struggling and going through an important strategic planning process Aaron and 6 others have helped them back to a solid financial footing from their shrinking pool of less than 500 donors.

In the process Aaron, and the artistic director, and the other 5 board members updated the vision and mission. Their goal: to be more inclusive of diversity and to welcome younger donors.

For the board meeting I attended the managing director brought names of people to thank for financial contributions and memberships. We had prepared a script to remove any barriers about what to say. And we talked about what the research says about making a thank you call from a board member.

I made the first thank you call as an example of how easy and fun this would be.

Rarely have I reached anyone live when I make thank you calls at board meetings. But this organization has an aging population and “Jack” answered my call.

I put him on speaker phone so the group could hear what I had planned to be a warm, short, thank you call.

Jack had other plans.

As I spoke with Jack for about 45 seconds, I watched Aaron’s face as he heard his words. He was visibly hurt and angered by Jack’s comments. As it turned out Jack is hard of hearing and was having trouble hearing my intention of thanks, but he did understand which arts organization I represented.

He gruffly said, “I don’t like what they are doing anymore! They’ve become too avant garde for me. You can call back when my wife is home. She might feel differently.”

I thanked Jack and told him we appreciated his feedback. And made a note to call his wife as she was clearly the person who had made the recent gift.

I no sooner had disconnected the call when Aaron said firmly, “I can’t do this!”

He explained that he didn’t want to hear bad things about an organization he loves.

We offered to make sure he was only calling to thank people who we, and he, knew truly supported this form of art and the new direction.

We also talked as a group about how helpful it was to know exactly who the supporter was in Jack’s household – new information for us.

Aaron was firm in his unwillingness to talk with anyone. In fact, he sat stoically watching the rest of us phone 10 more supporters.
Make thank you calls to donor and make someone's day
We all had lovely, warm, conversations or left voice mail messages.

One donor said, “You just made my day!”

Unfortunately, Aaron was putting the focus of the calls on the wrong person. Himself.

Increasing donor retention requires having a relationship with supporters. It means understanding why they give or stop giving.

Not everyone is going to give forever.

Knowing when to stop hounding someone with calls and emails and letters is important. The only way to know when to stop is to talk with them occasionally and put the focus on them, not us.

One of the Nine Steps to A Successful Fundraising Campaign is to engage board members as ambassadors.

And that means to make donor thank you calls.  

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