Why Phone Calls Help Your Online Fundraising


Photo by Abeeeer

Every nonprofit knows it needs to solidify it’s funding base. And according to Bridget Hankin, who has over 15 years of partnership development experience and currently works on such programs with Share Our Strength’s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Campaign, cultivating donors is key to growing those fundraising dollars. You can only do that by building relationships but if you only communicate with donors online, your relationship won’t deepen as much as it could.

So what if you use a combination of online and phone communication? Well, now you’re talking.

In this interview, Bridget explains the importance of using simple phone calls to create deep relationships with donors that’ll sustain your organization for a long time.

What’s an effective method you’ve used to cultivate future and current donors?

I found the phone-email-phone-mail pattern works best. The reason I start off the relationship building process with a phone call is because it’s personal. After the call, I’ll follow-up with an email so the person doesn’t have to remember everything. I’ll call later on to move things along, and wait to send a piece of mail once the relationship has been developed. Mail is very formal, so I leave that for last.

What have you found to be advantageous about using the phone to build relationships with donors?

Cultivation is everything in the game to win new funders. If they’re having a conversation with you and they don’t feel it’s a value added to their day-to-day, then they won’t want to partner with you. So if you’re sending a mass email, remember that you will have a handful of people who will appreciate a call from you. Also remember that it’s a little easier for people to say “no” to you over an email.

Do you have a success story of someone you cultivated validating the fact that creating relationships over the phone works?

There are a couple events that come to mind. We had been in talks with a group for about two months. A sudden opportunity came up and I was able to make an ask for $12 million over the phone. Because they knew us well and were comfortable with us at that point, it wasn’t strange or out of the blue for me to call asking for such a large amount. In fact, we had only met face to face once; the majority of that relationship building took place online backed up by phone calls.

Another success story happened to a colleague of mine. When she called a director of a supporting company about unrelated news, she caught him right when he was trying to find an organization to involve in a new project. We were probably at the bottom of the list of nonprofits he had in mind, but because my colleague caught him at that moment, and she already had been developing relationship over the phone, she was able to stay on with him, brainstorm, and seal the deal. Because she stayed on the phone to work through the problem with him and get it off his plate, our group was chosen. This wouldn’t have happened unless we had that relationship beforehand.

It’s important to develop your relationships so that you can get to the level where a phone call is welcomed, and maybe even expected of you.

What are some dos and don’ts that come to mind?

Do your research before you get on a call; even use tools like Google to find out as much as you can about the potential donor. Be respectful of their limited time so steer the conversation but let them have the chance to ask questions. Don’t feel like you have to make the financial ask if you feel the conversation’s not going that way, but always make some sort of ask; for example, ask if they would be willing to review some information if you sent it electronically. Also, know the company or person’s vernacular so you can communicate better; it’s easier to speak to someone when you can relate to them.

What are some on and offline resources for our readership?

Google is a great tool for researching individual and organizational donors; it’ll help you see what people are saying about the organization or person you’re about to solicit. I also use Sponsorship.com and CSRwire.com to get info on what’s going on in the nonprofit industry; this can give you insight into what is or isn’t working for the organization you’re about to approach. And of course, Philanthropy.org.

Any last thoughts?

Keep in mind that young professionals are used to paying bills online, and they can be interested in recurring online donations. These millenials are used to doing transactions online, they even prefer it. So if you combine online fundraising with personal (phone) outreach, you’ll have a solid fundraising strategy.

What are your thoughts?