Give your donors a call so they can come to the rescue.

Calling in the Cavalry - Phone Fundraising in a Crisis

Phone fundraising can have an incredible impact on your organization's ability to serve during the pandemic. I want to share an approach that has been incredibly effective for our team in the last week and a half. I can't take credit for the idea, which came from our director of marketing. But our team has put it to work and seen tremendous fruit in just a few days.

Putting out the call.

The basic idea was to do phone calls to some of our most active donors. Our donors want to help others during normal times, and in this time of national crisis, people want to pitch in more than ever. They want to do something!

A phone call is the most direct way to give them the opportunity they want. Like other food banks around the country, Golden Harvest is stepping up its efforts to get more food and get it to the people who need it. That means we need more resources. This message forms the core of our 'ask'.

Using our donor database, I created a list of about 500 donors who have a history of giving regularly and generously. Not all of them are major donors, as our major giving program is still in its beginning stages, but many of them are. If you're creating such a list, you might screen for for donors who have cumulative giving of more than $2-3,000 and have given within the last year. It's also good to screen for donors who have given larger single gifts in the past, say $500-1,000+. They also need to have a phone number on file.

Remember, phone fundraising is time intensive, so you want to limit your list so you call your best donors first. Unless you have the resources to put together a fully fledged phone campaign with either paid callers or volunteers, this effort will be lead by your development team. So a smaller list with the right potential donors is better than a big list that hasn't been screened.

Start with a script.

Contrary to what you might think, a script helps you have a more natural conversation. Since it gives you the basics of what you want to say, you won't stumble around looking for words when someone picks up the phone. It also gives you a concise message to leave on your donor's voicemail if you don't connect.

The script that we have used reads as follows:

(Person picks up) Hello, this is (your name) from Golden Harvest Food Bank. May I speak to Mr./Mrs./Ms. (Donor Last Name)? Hello, Mr./Mrs./Ms. (Donor Last Name). I’m sure you’re aware of the crisis that the virus has created in our community. Nothing has happened like this in a generation. Golden Harvest is preparing to feed more people than ever before and we need your help. Every dollar you donate will help deliver $11 worth of food. Would be able to consider making a gift today to help keep food going out to the families who need it? (Wait for their response) The easiest way to give is to go online to www.goldenharvest.org and click the Donate button. Thank you so much.  

OR if they say no, “I completely understand. If you change your mind and would like to give, you can go online to www.goldenharvest.org and give online. Stay safe, and God bless you. Goodbye…”

In-person script


Hello, Mr./Mrs.  (Donor Last Name), my name is (your name) and I’m with Golden Harvest Food Bank. I’m sure you’re aware of the crisis that the virus has created in our community. Nothing has happened like this in a generation. Golden Harvest is preparing to feed more people than ever before and we need your help. Every dollar you donate can help deliver $11 worth of food. Please consider going online to goldenharvest.org to making your best gift to help keep food going out to the families who need it. God bless you.  

Voicemail Script

Phone fundraising gets results.

When our development officers get get donors on the phone, they find that the donors want to talk about what the food bank is doing to respond to the crisis. They are excited to be "in the know", and are happy to hear that we are responding to the need as it develops.

The response that we've gotten from the community has been just tremendous. One donor drove down to the food bank the day he got the call to drop off a check for several thousand dollars. Checks for hundreds or thousands of dollars have been showing up in the mail. Our online donation platform has seen a surge of larger gifts.

I think the power of this approach is that our donors want to do something good when so many people are suffering. Phone fundraising makes it personal and gives them a chance to respond generously.

Track your contacts.

Keeping track of your results is important. If you can, take the time to document each call in your donor database. In a pinch, you can track your call and the donor's response on a spreadsheet to be updated later. You want to do this for a couple of different reasons.

First, you want your system to have a record of a phone solicitation. This is an important point of contact. Secondly, it's encouraging to have records of gift pledges and see the fruit of all of your hard work. Thirdly, knowing the results of your phone calls will help your finance people plan.

Doing a phone solicitation like this will help you to increase your revenue from your best donors, and it will also help to build your relationship with them in the long term. Make sure that you do a good job thanking them and sharing the results of their gifts. If you're doing social media with videos of your activities, you can remind your donors to connect with your social media platforms so they see what their donations are accomplising.

This is a challenging time, and my prayers are with everyone on the front lines of serving the hungry. I hope that this approach to phone fundraising will be helpful during this national crisis.

P. S.

Having implemented this approach, my team has discovered a definite law of diminishing returns. What do I mean by that? When you're starting off, you're calling your best prospects, who have both high inclination and large capacity to give. This bears the most fruit, as some donors will give thousands or hundreds of dollars in response to your calls. High return on your time invested.

As you work through your list, your potential donors will be lower on the scale of both inclination and capacity. So you will still get some gifts, but they will start to get smaller. You will get to the point in the list that your average gift drops below $100.

The point at which you should transition to another fundraising method will differ from organization to organization. Bringing in $100 per phone call might not be the point. But if you are making 5 phone calls to get $50, or averaging just $10-20 per call, it's probably time to wrap it up.

Looking for more articles on phone fundraising? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser's Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.org, via Public Domain, no rights reserved.