Phone-a-thons have been a tried-and-true fundraising staple for decades. Gather volunteers, have them call a long list of donors, and have them make a solicitation. With fewer people picking up their phone for unknown callers, phone-a-thons appear to be waning in effectiveness. Have you ever considered turning the phone-a-thon on its head and holding a stewardship drive with a “thank-a-thon” instead?
The thank-a-thon concept is a simple one: set aside a time to have volunteers call donors to thank them for their support of the organization. If the donor answers the phone, great. But if not, a voicemail saying “thank you” is just as impactful.
Benefits of a thank-a-thon
Thank-a-thons have great benefits, even beyond thanking donors.
They can encourage more donations. Calling up a donor to thank them for their gift will keep your nonprofit top-of-mind when the next appeal comes around.
Thank-a-thons can engage volunteers. This can include those served by the nonprofit, organizational staff, and even the board.
Thank-a-thons can also serve as a confidence booster for those new to fundraising, such as new staff members or board members. Calling just to say “thank you” is a simple, low-stress way to make first interactions with donors.
You can put a thank-a-thon into action for your nonprofit in five easy steps:
1. Determine who to call
There are several different thank-a-thon strategies. Some common approaches include:
- Calling all donors to a big appeal, immediately after the appeal. This approach can drive home the success of the appeal to those who participated in it.
- Calling all donors from the past twelve months at the start of the end-of-year appeal. This can provide a nice boost of good will leading into the appeal.
- Calling all monthly donors annually to keep them engaged with their recurring gift.
The number of donors on these lists will determine the scale of your thank-a-thon. On average, one caller can make about ten calls per hour. For most volunteers, making calls for longer than two to three hours is unreasonable.
The thank-a-thon can take place all in one day, or over a series of days.
With these factors in mind, the number of callers you can recruit will inform how long your list of donors to call can be.
2. Find your callers
As we discussed, thank-a-thons are a great way to get people involved with your nonprofit. You can recruit volunteers, staff members, board members, and even people impacted by the organization’s work to call donors and say thank you.
Because these calls are to say thank you, and not to make an ask, you will find more people amenable to making the calls than in a situation where solicitations are being made.
If your nonprofit is considering a future appeal that includes a phone-a-thon or crowdfunding component, the thank-a-thon will provide you with insight on who among your staff and volunteers is most comfortable making calls and talking to others about your organization.
3. Create your script
Thank-a-thon calls are simple, but it still helps to provide callers with a script to follow when making the calls.
The main goal of the call is to simply say thank you. The caller should identify themself and the organization, explain their relationship to the nonprofit, and thank the donor for making a gift. Let the donor know that their support is really, truly appreciated.
In the majority of cases the caller will reach a voicemail, and this is all that needs to be said.
If a donor does answer the phone, their response to the “thank you” will dictate how to move forward.
The donor may stay quiet, not knowing what to say, or make it clear that they are not interested in chatting. If this is the case, let the donor know that you don’t want to take up too much of their time and then thank them again for their support of your organization before hanging up.
If the donor does seem engaged, it is an appropriate time to have a short conversation about their connection to the organization and any recent news before letting them go.
To equip callers for these conversations with donors, provide them with a list of recent news, updates, and stories of impact from around the organization before making calls.
4. Create a notes sheet
After each call, the caller should take notes on what transpired and then enter it into the donor database (if they have the appropriate permissions). Provide them with a sheet for each call that includes space for notes on:
- Date and time of the call
- Name of the caller
- Name of the donor called
- Whether or not the donor answered
- Whether or not a message was left
- Any questions that the donor asked about the organization
- Any questions the donor asked that still need to be answered in a follow-up communication
- Any other notes or comments
5. Make the calls
The final step is to simply set the dates and make the calls. The calls can be made from ministry landlines or from the callers’ own cell phones.
Since most people have cell phones, it is no longer necessary to make all calls in the evening when the donor is near their home phone.
Additionally, most people no longer answer the phone for unrecognized numbers, so callers will be leaving many voicemail messages. Expect this to happen, but know that these messages are still effective.
Whether you are looking for a way to better steward donors, prime donors for the next gift, engage volunteers, or get staff and board members more involved, a thank-a-thon is a great tool for your development office’s annual strategy.