Making the First Call

When was the last time you made a cold call to a potential donor, or had to initiate a donor relationship based on a referral? Cold calling donors, and even donor hand-offs, can be scary. However, if done right, they can be really effective in creating new relationships that can lead to future gifts.

Here are a few tips that can help you when you are making that first call:

Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!

Before you reach out to any potential donor, do your research. Some questions you might ask are:

  • Who are they? Learn about the person you will be speaking to, such as their special interests, career, and past philanthropy. For corporations, know the name and role of the person you will be reaching out to, the corporate mission, and the relationship of their programs or services to your mission.
  • What have they supported? Understand the individual or corporate history of giving and about other organizations they have supported. Are there specific connections to the mission of those organizations that are like your nonprofit?
  • When and how have they supported other organizations? Knowing the potential support capabilities will help inform the final ask.

Knowing who you are reaching out to can help shape your conversation should they actually pick up the phone or return your call. It would not reflect positively on you or your nonprofit if you don’t do adequate research beforehand, particularly when you are preparing to ask for any kind of support for your mission.

Prepare a guide, with talking points, to help you keep the conversation on track and ensure you don’t forget anything, but try not to create a script. First time donor calls are relationship building; therefore, the conversation should flow to allow you to create a personal connection with the potential donor.

Let the Conversation Flow

After you are prepared to make the call, make sure you have enough time to have a conversation with the potential donor. Calling a potential donor when you only have a few minutes to talk will rush the conversation and prevent you from building a relationship with the donor.

When you get a donor on the phone, here are a few tips to help your conversation:

  • Ask if it’s a good time to talk. Don’t assume that since the potential donor picked up that they have time to talk. Before you get into a full introduction, ask if they have a few minutes to chat. If it’s not a good time, ask if there is another date or time they are available to chat.
  • Introduce yourself and your organization. After they’ve agreed to talk, share a brief introduction of yourself and your organization. Add in information about your work at the nonprofit, accomplishments of the nonprofit, the nonprofit mission, and your nonprofit plans for the future.
  • Cultivate a connection and trust. Though the goal of the call is to ask for a donation, creating a back-and-forth conversation will foster relationship development and connection with more potential of getting to receipt of a donation. Though you have done some research, ask questions about their interests, causes they have supported, their specific career, etc. Use this time as an opportunity to find common ground between the potential donor, you, and your nonprofit. Asking questions and building some rapport can help shape the remainder of the conversation and make you more comfortable as you build up to the ask.
  • Explain the reason for the call. This is your opportunity to provide more detail about the work your nonprofit is doing or would like to do. Connect this to the potential donor’s interests where possible. Don’t be afraid to be a champion for the nonprofit – explain clearly how your nonprofit impacts the lives of people you support. Talk about the specifics of the fundraising campaign or program you will ask them to support.
  • Make the ask. The key to asking for the donation is to make clear the nonprofit’s plans and mission and how important their donation is to make this happen. So, when making your ask, reiterate all of the goals that you’ve discussed, plainly state your fundraising goal, and ask for a specific dollar amount that is appropriate for this potential donor. In some cases, you may already know what the donor is open to contributing, in others you may not. Knowing your fundraising strategy and goals for the call will help you with tailoring your ask for each potential donor. Be prepared to open opportunities for questions and have thoughtful responses ready to respond to how their donation will be specifically used to further the mission of the organization or implement a specific program or activity.
  • Thank them. No matter the outcome of the call, be sure to thank them for their time and support. Let the potential donor know that you will follow up with them. If you didn’t get the donation, don’t fret. A ‘no’ today may not necessarily mean a ‘no’ down the line. Either way, you want to leave the conversation with the potential donor having a positive view of you and your nonprofit so that you can continue to build the relationship in the future.

Follow up

Be sure to follow up with the new donor or potential donor following your call. You can send an email or handwritten thank-you card for their time. Provide additional information about the organization or project discussed.

If they have agreed to donate, send them information about their pledge and how they can fulfill their commitment within the next hour or so. Your CRM can assist you with donor follow-up and engagement.

Don’t forget to add or update the donor information. After your conversation you should have new insight about the donor which may be beneficial for other team members.

As you and your team make more first calls, you will become more comfortable with the preparation and flow necessary to convert these potential donors into active donors. Don’t get discouraged; believing in your mission and having a strong program will eventually get you to YES!

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