A thank-a-thon is a brief, phone-based fundraising campaign that focuses on a specific category of donors. The secret of the thank-a-thon's success is that it doesn't have a traditional "ask."
Why would you want to do a phone campaign without an ask? Phone fundraising campaigns fulfill different roles than a thank-a-thon. The purpose of a thank-a-thon is to reconnect with your donors and express your organization's gratitude for their support.
Many donors feel like bank machines. Organizations send out request letters, emails, and online fundraising appeals, but then do a terrible job of saying thank you. Sad to say, churches have some of the worse reputations for a lack of gratitude. They expect checks to come in at the offertory, but rarely do they think of how to show their gratitude for the generosity of the congregation.
Give "Thanks" with a joyful heart!
At the beginning of the 2018 holiday giving season, the food bank decided to do a thank-a-thon to reconnect with donors who had not given in the previous year. I created a list of about 3,000 donors who had given the year before but not in the previous twelve months. The acronym that development people use for these kind of donors is "lybunty" (last year but unfortunately not this year). We wanted to reach out to these donors and make them feel special and connected to what we're doing.
I set up a bank of seven phones in an open room, and worked with our volunteer coordinator to ask volunteers to do 3 hour shifts on three different nights. I originally wanted to do four nights, but we canceled one because it was the night of the national election. Volunteers came at 6:00 PM, given pizza and instructions, and put on the phones.
The volunteers really enjoyed the experience, and several ended up coming multiple nights in a row. We didn't have any board members participating this year because of time conflicts, but we plan on getting them involved next year. One issue the volunteers ran into was a significant percentage of bad telephone numbers. About 40-50% of the numbers we had in our database were out of date. Good to know.
Phone calls are victorious!
How did it work out? Excellent. In three days, our volunteers left messages or spoke with roughly 1,350 donors. In the subsequent 4 months, nearly 250 of those donors gave again, or about 18%, bringing in nearly $20,000. Given the cost of the campaign (pizza for 7 over three nights), that is obviously a huge success. The biggest success is that our donors obviously felt that the personal touch made a difference. Their gifts are evidence that the extra effort that it took to have a volunteer say thank you really meant something to them.
Tools for success
The first thing you need for your thank-a-thon is a list of names to call. If you've been keeping records of your donors in a donor database, this should be easy enough to do. (If you haven't been keeping your donors in a database, read this article about why you should.) You create your list based on where you need to boost your fundraising efforts. You might focus on high value donors, monthly recurring donors, or lapsed donors. Come up with a list of roughly as many donors as you're planning to reach. Scrub out donors who don't have phone numbers listed on their profiles. If you are not doing regular data maintenance, realize that you may have a lot of bad phone numbers. So get a bigger list than you think you need.
You are going to need people to make your phone calls. Three potential pools of phone callers include staff members, board members, and volunteers. Since there is no ask involved, both board members and volunteers will find this to be an enjoyable opportunity to connect with your donors. Figure that your volunteers can make 40 phone calls per hour. This allows you to estimate the number of volunteer hours you'll need to make all of the phone calls on your list. For example, if you have 400 donors to call, it will take 10 volunteers about one hour, or 5 volunteers 2 hours. You may decide to do your thank-a-thon over multiple nights so you can reach more donors.
You'll need phones to make these phone calls. You'll be calling in the evening, 6-8:30 being the prime time for phone calls, so you can use your business lines for making these calls without disrupting your regular daily operations. It's helpful to have your phones all set up in a room where your volunteers can work together. It's encouraging to have a group of people working together to make phone calls. Just make sure that the phones are far enough apart that noise doesn't become an issue.
If you don't have business phone set-up, you might ask a friendly business connection to donate the use of their phone lines. A last resort is to ask volunteers to use their cell phones, although this only works if they have unlimited calling. They will probably want to use *67 to block caller ID on their personal phones, which shouldn't be an issue on business phone lines.
Most of the phone calls that your volunteers make will go straight to voicemail, and that's ok. The mere fact that an actual person called and left a message will make a strong impression on your donors. But it means that you need to have a script so that your volunteers aren't left stuttering on the phone. Here's a sample script:
- Step 1 – Find your donor’s name and phone number on the list given you. Use your “Smile” guide to keep your place.
- Step 2 – Dial the phone number.
- Step 3 – SMILE! (The donors can hear if you’re smiling)
- Step 4 - (Voicemail picks up) Leave message
Hello, Mr./Mrs. (Donor Last Name), my name is (your name) and I’m a volunteer for (your organization). Thanksgiving is right around the corner so I’m calling to say, “Thank you.” Your gifts to (our organization) made it possible to (do something awesome and important to your donors). Thank you so much for your support. Goodbye.
(Person picks up) Hello, this is (your name) from (your organization). May I speak to Mr./Mrs./Ms. (Donor Last Name)? Hello, Mr./Mrs./Ms. (Donor Last Name). Thanksgiving is right around the corner so I’m calling to say, “Thank you.” Your gifts to (your organization) have made it possible to (do something awesome that is important to the donor). Thank you so much for your continued support. (Wait for their response) Have a lovely day, goodbye.
You'll notice that the script is short. That's fine. The donors who answer the phone will be happy enough to keep the call brief.
One warning - tell your volunteer that they will occassionally (maybe one in 100) call a person who is unhappy with your organization. They are very rare, but it does happen. The volunteer should listen politely to any concerns the donor might have and ask if they would like a staff member to call them back during business hours. Most of the time they will decline, but being able to vent their frustrations will make them feel better.
You need to make every effort to track the phone calls in your database. This means follow up. Your volunteers need to mark on their donor lists if they connected or if the phone number was out of service. This information should be input into your database so you can track the success of your efforts. Tracking who was called will enable you to pull reports to see who has given after your campaign. You should also scrub any disconnected numbers from your database.
Everybody loves a thank you!
"Thank you" is something that pretty much everybody loves to hear. While your volunteers might find one or two grinches hiding in their phone lists, the vast majority of your donors will be touched that you went to the extra effort to give thanks.
Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com.
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