How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Woman donor getting a thank you call from a charity.
Thank you phone calls to donors can be a powerful retention tool. MoMo Productions/Stone/Getty Images

Frankly, I almost never get a thank you phone call from a charity. And that's too bad.

Because thank you calls are so infrequent, I am always pleasantly surprised.

Those hackles that immediately rise when I hear a voice say “This is Susan calling for XYZ charity,” magically convert to a smile. 

I put the brakes on my at-the-ready “no,” and respond with something like, “Oh…well, thank you for calling.”

I’m not alone. Penelope Burk reports that, in her donor research, 34 percent of donors who received a personal thank you call donated again to that charity, because of the call.

In another test, reported by The NonProfitTimes, a thank you phone call increased later giving by 47 percent. 

Calling even when a thank you letter had been sent improved subsequent giving by 22 percent. Those following donations were also larger.

But there are still right and wrong ways to thank a donor over the phone.

Here are just a few things to keep in mind when you call to say "thank you."

  1. Use my name. 

    It seems obvious, but sometimes callers forget and just launch into their spiel. Using my name gives me a heads up and may reassure me that the call is benign.

    Also, ask if this is a convenient time to call. I've had calls where the caller starts talking and doesn't let up for a while. Be considerate by checking to see if I have time to talk. 

  1. Mention my last gift. 

    Or congratulate me for being a donor for ten years, or that I just upgraded to a monthly donation.

    Let me know that you know about me and my history with your charity.

    Don’t ask for another gift! Just stick to saying thanks.

    And don’t be rattled if I don't remember giving to your organization. Just say, “Well, we remember you! And we want to say thanks.”

  1. Leave a warm voice mail, if I’m not available. 

    For me, getting a voice mail is almost as good as the real thing. These days, you’re more likely to have to leave a message anyway.

    People screen their calls, or they’re out and about. If you can leave a sweet message, consider it mission accomplished

  2. Ask me a couple of questions.

    Good questions include “what keeps me giving?” Or “how has the charity affected my life or the life of someone I know?”

    You might be surprised at the motives you uncover and stories that inspire you.

  3. Get your volunteers and board members involved. 

    Have a phonathon just for thanking. Make it an event and have fun.

    Provide some basic training and then set your phoners free. If you ask people to make those calls from home, do give them a list of tips and even let them do a practice run with you so you can provide feedback.

How do you collect phone numbers of donors?

The easiest way is to have a field on your donation form for telephone numbers. Most donors will provide them. If they don't, do not go looking for the numbers. It's kind of creepy to do that. And it may even be illegal because there are protections for people against unwanted phone calls. Filling in their phone numbers implies that donors are open to calls.

What about young donors? Do they care about phone calls?

Some research found that Millennials use their smartphones for just about anything other than making and receiving phone calls. 

That research applies to solicitations, and we don’t know how they would view a thank-you call, voice mail message or text.

If your donors are in this generation, line up callers in the same age group, and then test before you roll out a phone thanking program.

Add phone thank yous to your donor retention to-do list and see how those phone calls work their magic.