No More Excuses—You Need to Call Every New Donor

Steven Shattuck is VP of Marketing at Bloomerang. As a HubSpot Certified inbound marketer, he is a contributor to Nonprofit Hub, National Council of Nonprofits, Ragan, Social Media Today, Search Engine Journal, The Build Network, HubSpot, Content Marketing Institute and Business2Community. Steven has spoken at national and local conferences, and is frequently interviewed by media outlets for his expertise in digital marketing.

It’s no secret that fundraising is all about building relationships. And when it comes to building relationships, nothing beats a personal, one-on-one interaction. Unfortunately, many development departments struggle with this.

In our own donor communications experiment over at Bloomerang, we made a $5 online donation to 50 random nonprofits. For each nonprofit, the donor was new to their database. Many of the nonprofits did a lot of things right in their follow-up, but most lacked a personal touch.

In a perfect world, we should have received 19 phone calls (only 19 asked for a phone number on their donation form). For the other 31, a handwritten note would have gotten the job done.

We received zero phone calls and only two hand-written notes.

You can see the full results in the infographic below:


I can think of a lot of excuses as to why these nonprofits didn’t pick up the phone to say thanks. Here are the most common we’ve heard, and why they’re all bogus:

1. The Donation Amount is Too Low to Warrant a Phone Call

It’s true that different gift levels should trigger different types of responses. However, no (legitimate) donation is too small to be acknowledged personally, especially from a first-time donor.

Ideally, you should have at least four response mechanisms:

  • New donors at or below your average donation amount
  • New donors above your average donation amount
  • Returning donors at or below your average donation amount
  • Returning donors above your average donation amount

According to Tom Ahern, first-time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give a second gift. And you want that second gift, since donor retention rates skyrocket from 22.9% to 60.8%. The Agitator has reported that a three-minute thank-you call will boost first-year retention by 30%.

Whether it’s a phone call or a handwritten note, be sure to do something personal for first-time donors.

And don’t sleep on a small donation like $5. A $5 donation actually sends a lot of interesting signals:

  • Maybe they really love your organization, but don’t have the funds to donate any more than $5. Can they help in other ways, like volunteering? Ask them!
  • A $5 gift is an ideal monthly pledge. When you reach out to them personally, ask them if they’d like to make a longer-term commitment. You don’t get what you don’t ask for!

2. It Takes Too Much Time

A thank-you call shouldn’t take more than 1-2 minutes, and it should take even less if you leave a voicemail (which can be just as good).

Here’s a sample voicemail script:

Hey there, (donor name). My name is (your name) and I am the (title) at (organization). Just wanted to quickly say thanks for your gift. It really means a lot to us. I’d love the opportunity to talk to you more about how your gift is helping (your mission). Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me anytime if you have any questions about (your organization). Have a great day!

Let’s say they pick up the phone. Here’s how the conversation might go:

Hey there, (donor name). My name is (your name) and I am the (title) at (organization). Just wanted to quickly say thanks for your gift. It really means a lot to us. I’d love the opportunity to talk to you more about how your gift is helping (your mission). Do you have a minute or two?

(If they say yes, tell them—feel the conversation out for an additional ask or an in-person meeting.)

(If they say no, just say no worries, thanks again, and let them go about their day.)

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make 10-20 calls an hour.

3. We Don’t Have the Manpower

Don’t forget that you don’t have to do it alone. Board members are great people to make thank-you calls to new donors. Volunteers too! Get a couple pizzas and have a volunteer-call-night.

All in all, there really isn’t a good excuse for reaching out to new donors by phone. So what’s stopping you?

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  • JT Harding

    We have to do a better job of collecting phone #s. Do you know if the phone field on the online donation forms was a mandatory field? Ours is not mandatory and very few people actually leave their phone #s.

    • Hey JT, a small point of clarification on the infographic: the 19/50 were all required phone #s. A few more forms did ask for phone #s but did not make it a required field.

  • Sandy Rees

    Great stuff Steven! I once recruited a volunteer to make thank-you calls to first-time donors. It was like hitting the ball out of the park! The volunteer needed something she could do from home and loved talking on the phone. Donors were pleasantly surprised, and we saw giving increase over the next 6 months from those people.

  • Okay. It all makes perfect sense. Shame on me for not doing all this. I will see about doing it from now on. I wonder though, if there is any good data on how many donations are lost by the simple act of requiring the phone number? I know that we put a lot of thought into our system and chose to require as little as possible, in order to be perceived as invading as little as possible (asking someone for their telephone number crossed that line), so we would run off as few squeamish donors as possible. Any idea? Hiya Sandy!

  • Richmond

    What’s the consensus? Require the phone number or not? Setting up a widget now, so would love to know.

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  • Tee Ryan

    Segmenting into four distinct thank you’s is great advice, thanks Steven. Much appreciated over here at