Asking for donations when the world is on the verge of yet another recession can be challenging. People tend to be more savvy with their money and not as enthusiastic about spending as they used to be. 

However, despite the economic uncertainty, it doesn’t mean your phone fundraising campaign is doomed.

The trick is to revisit your perspective and humanize it additionally to reflect the donor evolution that has been underway.  

We’ve rounded up some tried-and-tested phone fundraising tips to help you connect with your constituents in an engaging, meaningful, and effective way. 

1. Strategize to thrive

The recipe for a successful phone fundraising campaign starts with a few key ingredients.

Donor engagement software

If you do multiple fundraising campaigns annually, you’ll want to invest in a robust donor engagement platform. It will assist you in organizing your lists of donors and prospects. 

Not only will it allow you to keep tabs on individual donors, but it will also allow you to segment and prioritize your data to ensure you are calling your best available data in this challenging time. 

Dynamic, segment-specific scripting and custom fields will allow you to tailor your asks and maximize engagement to drive maximum participation. 

Plus, a great donor engagement solution can deliver additional features such as remote calling capability, multi-channel outreach opportunities, sophisticated cadence automation, and much more to help you connect with donors.

Contact list

As a fundraiser, you’re probably intimately familiar with your key calling segments. Still, it bears repeating: Prioritize your calls by first reaching out to the loyal donors who are most likely to respond positively, especially in these times. But don’t disregard your wider community of supporters and friends. We suggest contacting each group in the following order:

  • Recent or past “leadership” donors
  • Loyal donors of any contribution size
  • Lapsed donors (LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs)
  • One-time donors (beginning with the most recent)
  • “Warm” future donors / never givers, i.e., those who have attended events, volunteer, or considered giving in previous campaigns
  • “Cold” future donors / never givers

Clip this ‘script’

Fundraising calls should be natural and conversational –– they’re not sales pitches. But it’s vital to provide reference points for those conversations. Don’t think of them as scripts but rather structures or interactive talk tracks to help guide the dialogue with your donors. 

Ideally, a call structure should include:

  • A sample courtesy statement or question to build rapport. This can be as simple as, “Hi, this is Garrett from Chilton University, and I’m reaching out this evening to share some news and updates about what’s been going on around campus.” Avoid the usually asked “Do you have a moment to talk?” since this can close the doors immediately if someone replies, “No, I don’t.”    
  • An acknowledgment of their prior gifts or involvement with your organization. GuideStar experts explain that “Making them feel good about their involvement makes it easy to lead to another fundraising ask.”
  • A short description of the specific problems and solutions you’re addressing. For example, $1,000 won’t equip our new multimedia classroom entirely, but it’s a contribution that will make a difference.
  • The ask itself: Will you consider a $1,000 gift for this cause?
  • Suggested responses to any possible objections fundraisers may have. Begin by noting the most common hesitations and update these often.
  • A moment to stop talking and just listen. GuideStar urges you to “give the donor time to think, reflect, and respond. Avoid the temptation to jump in too soon and say something counterproductive, like: If that amount is too high, would you consider a smaller gift?” (Spoiler alert: that’s the fast track to an immediate no-go.)
  • A few words of appreciation. Thank them for their gift, their time, their feedback –– whichever applies.
  • Important questions to ask at the end of the call. For instance, is their contact information up to date? Do they have any further questions? Do they have suggestions to improve their experience?

Plan your calling schedule

Before the pandemic, the rule was that If most of the contacts on your list were working professionals, making your calls in the evening –– not too early or too late –– was probably best. The trick was to hit the post-rush-hour but pre-Netflix-binge sweet spot. It wasn’t very likely that a potential donor would accept a personal call at the office in the middle of the day with all the co-workers around.

Phone fundraising tips

But now, with remote and hybrid workplaces being our not-so-new reality, people are more available than ever because they’re at home more frequently, making it much easier for them to take a personal call during the day while between meetings.

Thanks to this shift, afternoon and even late-morning calls have become more successful and effective. 

This, however, doesn’t mean you should entirely stop calling in the evening. It’s a good idea to A/B test different populations and determine the optimal time of day for each individual segment.    

And if you’re contacting people in different time zones, be sure to schedule your calls accordingly.

Consider a multi-channel approach

Fundraising, although essentially a nonprofit activity, can significantly benefit from borrowing a page from the profit-focused world of sales. 

Strategies salespeople use to convince their prospects to buy from them can be smoothly translated into the fundraising context. 

The ultimate goal is basically the same — to secure a commitment and generate resources, whether those resources are funds for a charitable organization or revenue for a company. 

Similarly to sales, a successfully run fundraising campaign hinges on building relationships, understanding the needs of the potential donor, and effectively conveying the value of the cause. Just as a salesperson must convince a potential customer that the product or service offered is worthy of their investment, a fundraiser must convince potential donors that their cause is worthy of their support. 

And it all boils down to leveraging digital engagement and multi-channel tactics.

Depending on your budget and your donor base, you might want to support your phone campaigns with follow-up texts or emails. The truth is that you can raise your fundraising game only if you diversify your approach and reimagine your entire strategy in favor of moving from the traditional phone-oriented setup. 

If you haven’t yet integrated video communications into your existing multi-channel outreach approach, this is the perfect time to do so. 

The best way is to use phone fundraising as part of a larger digital engagement program that includes direct mail and live (or virtual) events, as well as email, social media, or other forms of digital marketing.

Big push? Recruit volunteers

Sometimes (even in the best of times), you’re short on staff to make calls. 

Why not prepare and have some Advancement Office colleagues volunteer a few hours each week to take to the phones and engage your alums and donors directly? 

Peer-to-peer calling (alums calling their fellow alums) is also being implemented at a large number of schools and universities. 

This is a fantastic option for alums who want to support your fundraising efforts but aren’t in a position to do so financially.

Plan a process to receive donations

Most donor engagement solutions include a payment gateway to facilitate donations via telephone calls. 

But there are other ways to do this, including automated follow-up texts and emails that push the donor to a URL or the “text-to-donate” method.

2. Craft kick-ass asks (with integrity)                        

As nonprofit consultant Alan Cantor put it, “There is indeed a way for nonprofits to offer support and to seek it at the same time.” (Harvard Business Review)

Depending on the state of the crisis, your organization may decide to delay its campaign or shift its fundraising priorities. 

Phone fundraising tips

If you do go ahead with an ask, the Chronicle advises you to “make your case for support, emphasize your long-term vision, and explain why your work needs support now.”

If you are involved in supporting a vulnerable population that’s particularly affected by the crisis, be sure to highlight in detail your ongoing efforts. 

Student crisis funds and associated projects often prove to be among the most enduring cases for support in times of crisis. 

Make sure to be flexible with your existing relationships, as well. You might want to offer options like deferring pledged gifts or pausing monthly donations.

Put your cause front and center

Your superpower is the unique work your organization does and the positive effects it has on your community. Keep that mission top of mind. 

“Causes are special, so sell your cause. The money will follow,” explains Will Folsom on Nonprofithub.

They’re the hero, not you

“Fundraising is not about what a donor can do for you; it’s about what you can do for a donor, namely making them feel good about making a difference,” Folsom says. 

If you can understand a donor’s priorities, you can tailor your message to make them see why a gift to your organization is right for them. So work on your messaging with these donor-centric ideas in mind:

  • Focus on what they can accomplish.
  • Ask questions about their philanthropic interests.
  • Offer to update them on the success of initiatives they’ve supported in the past.
  • Encourage them to ask questions and, most importantly, listen.

Add benefits

Offer your donors benefits that provide value. “Even a thank-you is a benefit,” says GuideStar. Other perks might include:

  • Challenge grants
  • Invitations to events
  • Exclusive newsletters
  • Acknowledgment in publications
  • Discounts from community partners and/or local businesses
  • Thank-you gifts like branded merchandise (produced with in-kind donations from partners)

Cultivate team spirit

No matter the cause, soliciting donations can be a slog. Explore ways to keep your fundraisers motivated and energized, such as:

  • Daily, weekly, and/or monthly goals, either in terms of the amount of money raised or the number of contacts engaged
  • Individual bonuses or prizes
  • Organization-wide incentives like parties, concerts, and sporting events
  • Additional CV-building or earning opportunities

3. Prepare: training tactics for big breakthroughs

At its heart, phone fundraising is a person-to-person interaction –– a two-way dialogue. 

While student fundraisers must convey vital information –– and the all-important ask –– clearly and comprehensively, it’s also important to be friendly, upbeat, and, above all, respectful. 

Before you reach out to each and every constituent, remember to:

Focus on the donor

Put your relationship with the contact first. 

If they’re a longtime supporter, emphasize those ties. If they’re new to the supporter community, highlight the benefits of joining your community of donors. 

Use their name as often as possible, along with the word you. 

“This is about what the donor can accomplish, not your organization,” GuideStar notes.

Leave a voicemail

Real-talk: we all screen our calls, at least occasionally. 

But if you’re up for a real-time conversation, you can’t let a [beeeep] scare you away. So just leave a message: a thank you for their prior support, why you’re calling now, and your contact information. 

However, you should try again and be sure to do so.

“After trying three times…pop a quick note in the mail or send an email,” advises the folks at GuideStar. “This is still more personal than simply sending a cold mailing.”

Go all-natural

Conversational is the word to remember. 

Although you may be calling a stranger, do your best to visualize a friend on the other end of the line.

Keep up the good vibe

Don’t forget to smile while you speak, and try standing up or walking around. Believe it or not, the person you’re talking to can tell if you’re smiling over the phone. Body language is always important, even if your donor can’t see you.

It will go a long way toward communicating with positive energy.

Handle objections with connections

GuideStar advises to “Listen. Wait for a response. Empathize. Find out if this is the real reason for the hesitation. Suggest an alternative. Make another ask. Rinse and repeat.”

If a donor can’t commit to a gift, explore other possible ways to support the organization, like volunteer opportunities.

Practice to perfect

You can’t cold call without warming up. 

Start with the donors you know are already on board and use those conversations as practice. 

They’ll often be up to providing constructive feedback –– and you won’t need to worry about having a prospect hang up on you.

Now, let’s raise some money!  

“Nonprofits that have been strengthening relationships with donors, communicating clearly and openly, and making the most of technology have been preparing for a crisis for a while,” states the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Just be assured that by adopting a people-centric approach (and following our phone fundraising tips), your organization will get through just about anything –– pandemic, natural disaster, and alien invasion included. After all, who knows what the next couple of years have in store?

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