So much has changed in the almost 25-years since I entered this profession. My first campaign had pledge forms filed on index cards and we were using WordPerfect (bonus points for anyone who can remember that software). We even have software that can make the call for you so you don’t have to dial!
Cell phones were just starting to make their way into the mainstream and email was truly in its infancy stage. We actually received snail mail at home (and were happy to receive it because it amounted to more than just bills — it was still the preferred mode of communication for many). Nowadays, the phone is almost obsolete. My phone rings less than a handful of times a day and many people don’t even have a home phone anymore! My 15-yr old son won’t set up the voicemail on his cell because he says that anybody who knows him well knows that he would never check the phone. My, the world has changed.
BUT, I believe that in order to have meaningful relationships with donors, we need to actually pick up the phone and speak to them. Not just when asking for a gift, but on a consistent basis. One of the highlights of my year is in December when we call many of our donors just to thank them for choosing to support our organization in the previous year. The calls are not a door opener for a solicitation later in the conversation. I have never heard of a donor who was displeased by these types of calls — as a matter of fact, many donors actually thanked me for taking the time to chat with them. I made copious notes on my calls — why the donor chose to support us, if they have a personal story, as well as asking some of the great open-ended questions I learned through 21/64. But I did not ask for a gift. That was not the purpose of these calls.
Many fundraisers also fear the phone when it comes to setting up ask meetings, or following up with donors on commitments, etc. We have become entirely too reliable on email as the preferred means of communicating. May I humbly suggest that you try to speak to someone in person and then use email as a confirmation of the discussion. I have found that tones in emails are often misunderstood (especially compared to a live conversation).
So many fundraisers I know put off “making the call”. While I agree that sometimes the task is daunting, what is the fear? (If you can identify the specific fear beforehand, often you can overcome it.) Do you need to be more familiar with the donor’s history? Are you unsure of the projects that your organization runs? Are you unsure of the impact? Has your organization ‘dropped the ball’ with this donor? Here’s a quick pointer — you don’t need to be an expert on everything. Your job is to inspire the donor. If you need to get back to them with additional information, that is great news! Another chance to connect!
I, personally, would like to be able to relegate emails to an hour of our day and spend the rest on the phone or in-person meetings. I haven’t got there yet, but it’s a long-term goal. Email is way too easy to ignore (we all have done it). A meaningful connection with a donor is something that can make your day. I often say that if you are in a bad mood, call a donor and thank them for their support. I guarantee you will not be in a bad mood for long.