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DIY: Donor Thank-a-Thon

on Jan 13, 2014

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I recently tested a telephone thank-a-thon with the help of Julia Silvestri-Wong, to say thank you to as many donors as possible by phone prior to the holiday season. Thank-a-thons are not a new idea. Here is a textbook description of how to execute a thank-a-thon by Gail Perry:

Put together your core team of three to five callers, made up of people of some stature within your organization. Ideally, these will be board members and volunteers who enjoy talking with people and are well organized. If you put staff members on the team, there should be no more than one staff caller for every three volunteer callers. One of the staff callers should be the executive director. Do not “require” that anyone be a caller; rather, you want to have callers who choose to participate and will enjoy doing it.

This is what we strove for, but it’s far from what was realized. Despite our best efforts, we could not secure participation from board members, Executive Director or other senior staff. Recruiting volunteers was difficult because this was such a new proposition, however the ones that did volunteer were fantastic. We also couldn’t execute it all in one evening. Given the low number of volunteers and limited number of workstations we had to spread it out over a two week period.

Despite this, it was a valuable endeavour and I think everyone should try it. Like any stewardship endeavour, the results will reveal themselves in the long-term and may never be easily attributed back to this particular campaign. However we did get the full gamut of responses, from people giving donations on the spot to being accused by one particular donor of “milking her like a cow” for donations.

Please, strive for the standards that Gail outlines in her blog. It sets a high standard that you should constantly strive for. I’m only writing this blog to show fundraisers that a campaign can still be executed to some degree without all the components she recommends.

Here are some details of our “not quite textbook” thank-a-thon:

Our call-list went back two full years, split in three: Monthly Donors, Last Gift $500+, Under $499.
This allowed us to prioritize our calls properly. Monthlies were called first, then we worked down the list. Given the limited participation we had, it was clear we wouldn’t likely get through our entire list. Prioritization helped us make it into the $25 gift range.

No ask in the script.
The sole purpose of this campaign is stewardship, so we deliberately did not script an ask. This also helped to put our volunteers at ease. There is no shortage of asking happening around the holidays, so not asking certainly helped us stand out.

No board involvement.
This would have been great, and it was my intent to get them involved. Maybe next year.

No senior staff involvement, though some junior staff did contribute a few hours of calling.
Like the board members, maybe next year.

Calls could only be made from within our office
This is important for protecting the privacy of our donors. Also, it ensures that anyone with call display will see that our organization is calling, not a third party.

Calls were made over a two-week period between 4-7pm EST
One reason for this was the limited participation we could muster up, and the fact that many of our staff work well into the evening hours. If I could have shut down the office from 3pm to 9pm and fill it with volunteers, I would have. Another reason we couldn’t start too early is because we have many donors on the west coast.

Call lists had to be signed out from a staff person and returned
I trust our volunteers, but I owe it to our donors to ensure their privacy is protected. By numbering the lists and having them signed out and back in, I could ensure no lists walked out the door or were lost.

Gift amounts were not listed on the call sheets given to volunteers
This helped protect donor privacy, but our volunteers also appreciated not knowing how much the person they were talking to gave. I would hope not, but it’s possible that despite being given only one script that they deviate if they knew they were speaking to a $10,000 donor or a $10 donor.

We tracked completed calls, voice mails, no answers, and not-in-service messages
This is important for list hygiene because now we can remove the numbers not in service from our database. Only about 20% of the calls were completed to a person, approximately 75% went to voice mail and the balance were defunct.

Give it a fun name!
Have some fun with the campaign, and don’t just call it your “thank-a-thon”. We called ours a Ring-a-ding so that it might drum up a little extra interest in what those fundraisers on the other side of the office were up to.

This post was by Brock Warner. Hailing from Toronto, Brock works to foster and place value upon the act of philanthropy, no matter the size of gift. As a professional, he values the ‘how’ as much as the ‘how much’ and desire to see the fruits of my labour and energy be a catalyst for positive change. Connect with Brock on Twitter at @BrockWarner.

DIY: Donor Thank-a-Thon


  1. Anonymous

    January 13, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Thank-a-thons are a great way to show appreciation and garner feedback. Any reason why senior management/board didn’t get involved? Bad timing? Good luck next time!

  2. Brock

    January 13, 2014

    Post a Reply

    Hi Sharon! Mostly due to timing, yes, and logistics weren’t easy either – many of our board members are not based in Toronto and the calls needed to be done from inside the office.

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