Please look that gift horse in the mouth!
December 1, 2011
Before You Leave the Office This Week…
December 20, 2011

Dialing for Dollars: The Follow-up Call

So, you’ve sent out your ask.  Now it’s time to follow up.  Why?  Because your request for funds might go into a big pile that is never revisited if you don’t and the phone is one of the very best ways to do it.

Ann and I have both worked in operations where this is an ingrained part of the cycle of year-end fundraising.  Ann calls it “dialing for dollars” and if your organization isn’t doing it, you’re probably leaving money on the table.

This year we’ve both noticed that our clients are willing to do it, but not sure how to go about it.  So, I thought I’d send some practical tips your way so that you can start right now – today!

Who do I call?

First, get a list from your database of all those donors who have not yet responded to your ask.  Then sort that list to start with the donor with the highest previous gift and the most history with the organization (reflected in frequency and longevity of giving) and work your way down from there.

When do I call?

I’ve had the very best luck later in the afternoons, say around 4:00 or 5:00.  That is late enough to catch some people after work and early enough not to interfere with most dinner hours.  Evenings can be great, too, but be prepared for some harried moms and dads.  I’ve also tried Saturday afternoons and people are more relaxed.  The bottom line?  Try several times of day outside of business hours and see what works for you.

Do I leave a message?

Opinions vary on this, but I think it’s best to try several times to connect personally before leaving messages for your higher and middle donors.  That being said, people are very busy these days and many have caller ID and will not take a call, so you will have to leave messages for many of your donors.

What do I say if I get them on the phone?

The most important thing to remember about this call is that you are not a telemarketer.  You can create a loose outline of the conversation, but you are really there just to remind the donor and answer any questions they have.  One caution, don’t start the conversation by asking, “Did you receive our annual appeal letter?” That can really derail the conversation as the donor searches their memory bank.

Instead, start out by saying, “We’ve sent you our year-end appeal and I’m wondering if you have any questions about our work.”  Or I’ve also seen work, “Is there any information about our work that I can provide for you that would help you in making a decision your year end giving?  We’d really love to have your support.”

To prepare for this call, you should have a couple of things in your back pocket:

  • One story about the difference your organization made in someone’s life
  • A couple of statistics about the work your organization does and its impact
  • The specific need your organization has right now
  • Your organization’s budgetary numbers, especially the percentage spent on fundraising (I hate this, but you will get asked…)

Most importantly – LISTEN!  This is not a robo call.  This is all about connecting with the donor and figuring out the best way for them to support your work.

What do I say if I have to leave a message?

If the call turns into a message, just let the donor know who you are and why you are calling.  Here’s an example:  “My name is Leslie from Front Range Source and I am calling to follow up on our annual appeal for funds we sent you last week.  We really value your support and I would be happy to answer any questions you have about our work.  Please call me at 720-320-6928 with questions or go online to donate at”

What if they say no?

And they will!  Some will say they need to think about it.  Some will say they don’t give over the phone.  Some will just say that they don’t want to support you any longer.  Just be sure to try to get a read from them about why they aren’t giving and take good notes for the future.  And don’t despair.  We know clients that have had people tell them no on the phone and then send in a much increased gift!

What if they say yes?

I’ve had this question a lot because some donors will say, “Thank goodness you called.  I’ve been meaning to send you something.”  So, you need to be ready to take that contribution either by using an internal processing system or your website.

Should I do anything after the call?

Yes!  First, be sure that you follow up on any requests the donor has for more information.  Some may want to be e-mailed the letter or proposal as they can’t recall receiving it.  Some may want to see your annual report.  Whatever it is, send it right away with a personal note.  Second – so important – be sure to record all the information you learned about the donor in your database.  This call is about building relationships between the donor and your great cause.  Don’t start from scratch every time!

Anything to add?  What is your great opening line for a year-end follow up call?


  1. Diana Lee says:

    I know some seasoned fundraisers who believe Fridays are best – somehow people may be a bit more relaxed, anticipating the weekend. And one person I know advises to smile before you dial the phone!

  2. Leslie Allen says:

    That’s great advice, Diana. A long time ago I read in Jerry Panas’ book “Asking” that it was a good idea to stand up when you’re making a donor call. I adopted it and I think it really work!

  3. What are your thoughts about calling donors who haven’t given in a few years — say, since 2008?

  4. Ann Goldman says:

    Hi Sabina. You certainly want to place priority on calling your upper end donors who have given recently. After that, it makes a lot of sense to reach out and call lapsed donors. Let them know “we miss you and want you back.” A few of my clients are doing it and it’s working. One client had a board member call a lapsed $500 donor who hadn’t given for a few years. The donor reactivated at $2,000!!!

  5. Thanks Ann! I feel a little awkward/desperate calling 2007 and “older” donors — those whose last gift was prior to 2007. Interesting about your client though!

  6. Diana Lee says:

    Hi, Sabina. You know, I want to talk to anybody who’s ever given. Apart from asking, it’s a chance to do the best research – information that comes directly from the donor. Since you’re not counting on their gift at this point, it’s a ‘safe’ opportunity to ask if there’s any reason they stopped giving? You could learn something interesting. And then, a chance to re-engage for a gift in the future.

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