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Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. And today, despite all of the bells and whistles of the Internet, it remains a fundraiser’s greatest tool.
Direct mail is very effective. Email can also be great, if used properly. Facebook and Twitter are right for some organizations, and huge wastes of time for others.
But after 140 years, the telephone remains an unrivalled tool in the hands of a talented fundraising team.
I was reminded of that truth by one of my fundraising heroes, Jerold Panas (of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners), who has raised more money than anyone I have ever met. The story below (from his blog here) is a perfect example of why little things matter.
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One of the wonderful things about being a consultant is that we give very wise advice . . . and we don’t have to implement it. We fly away and leave it to the client to put it all together.
There is one of my recommendations that fits this category. I’ll explain how it all came about.
I used to tell my clients that at $1,000 level, a gift should be acknowledged with a phone call. I talked about this at all my Seminars. I felt this was important counsel.
After one of my sessions, a person came up to speak to me. She said she didn’t want to interrupt while I was talking, but told me that at St. Jude’s (Memphis) they call everybody who makes a $100 gift.
“Good grief,” I said. “That must be a lot of phone calls.”
“23,000 a year.”
I asked, “Is it worth it?”
Then I didn’t even give her an opportunity to respond. I knew it was indeed worth it. St. Jude’s raises about $900 million a year.
Several weeks later, I was at my regular consulting visit with Scripps Health in La Jolla, California. I told the staff that they should begin calling people at $100 level. There was a great deal of resistance. But finally the Vice President, David Mitchell, said they would try it.
Here’s what happened. On an acquisition mailing, a fellow who had never given before sends in $130. Jerry Buckley calls him on the phone to thank him.
The guy was so impressed, the next day he sends $1,000. Jerry Buckley calls him again. The guy was immensely impressed with the attention.
Four months later, he sends $40,000. At the end of the year he sends $50,000.
Eighteen months after that, Scripps holds a press conference. They announce from this acquisition donor a cash gift of $100 million.
The phone call started it all. It really pays off.
Check out the original blog here.
How I Learned This Lesson
As my friend Andrew Kramer recently wrote as a guest-blog here, “increasingly, the best and only way to raise money from new prospects is to keep working to build a strong relationship with your donors.”
I learned that lesson very clearly early in my career.
An envelope had arrived from one of the wealthiest families in town. I was incredibly excited to open, and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw it included a folded check. They had never donated, so I was really excited to see what my latest letter had generated for the organization where I was working.
I unfolded the check to see it was for … $50.
That’s right. FIFTY. Boy, did I feel successful!
Me in 2006, slightly defeated on the floor of my office…
(Image via Jenny Fogel)
After a few deep breaths, I then began to think of our options. And I realized that their first official gift fundamentally changed their relationship with us. Sure, it was only fifty bucks, but they were now officially a donor.
We contacted them to thank them, even though it was a small gift. We then nurtured that relationship over the years with additional calls, notes, and communications. Eventually, we received an unsolicited $50,000 from them. And when we were launching a capital campaign a few years later, we successfully secured a multi-million dollar gift from this family.
From two figures to seven figures in a few years. These things work.
3 Action Items for Fundraisers
- Build a list of the top 10% of your donors. Rank them by order of importance (which is not entirely their total giving amount … rank them by how critical their support has been to your success. Someone who has given you $1,000 per year for ten years is more valuable than someone who gave you $10,000 once. Trust me on this … a long-term committed donor is the most likely prospect for major gifts and bequests, so you want to love people who have loved you.).
- Set aside a specific time just ONCE per week to call these donors JUST to thank them (do not ask them for money, to volunteer, or anything). Just tell them how much their gift matter and that you wanted them to know that they are important to you. Even if it is just 30 minutes per week, commit to that time. And tell your team to guard it so you have no interruptions.
- Try it for four weeks. Lock yourself in an office without the Internet and make your calls. Don’t give up for four weeks. You can give up in week five, but treat this like a 28-day rehab. You’ve got to kick the habit of under-appreciating your donors.
Questions to Ask Afterwards
After the 4-week trial, evaluate your success. How many of the Top 10% did you reach? What conversations did you have? Are there any who now deserve a hand-written note to follow-up to the conversation as a second thank you? And most importantly … can you keep doing this next month?
What would happen if everyone on your team did this? For example, each week, could you give a list of 3 donors to every member of your team and ask them to call them just to say “Thank you”? Could you include the program team in doing that, not just development officers?
And what about giving each of your board members 1 person to call each month? They might hate calling people to ask for money, but they might LOVE calling people to thank them for giving money. And that could then become the gateway to turning them into fundraisers for you.
Let Me Know How it Works
I would love to hear your stories of whether this works for you. I promise, it is one of the best things that you can do to build the key donor relationships that can make an impact on your organization. Contact me here, or tweet me @JeremyGregg.
You can find more about Jerold Panas here and about his firm here.
The image above was created by mliu92 and is used via a Creative Commons license here.