​​6 Tips to Nail Your Thank You Calls (And Retain Those First-Time Donors)

Jamie Klobuchar
November 16, 2021

Let’s imagine you just made your first gift to a nonprofit. Maybe you spent some time online searching for an organization that best aligned with your values or heard really great things about this nonprofit from a friend or colleague. You whipped out your credit card, entered some information about yourself, and pressed send. 

And then, after the auto-responder confirming your donation...nothing. Radio silence. 

Next time you’re wanting to make a charitable contribution, are you going to think of that organization again? Probably not. 

This is why it’s so important that every first-time donor receives a thank you call from your team, regardless of the donation amount. Every first-time donation is a new door open, an opportunity to engage and educate a new donor and bring them into your work on a more regular basis. 

When you don’t properly thank and acknowledge a first-time donor, you are slamming that door shut. 

So, let’s say you just got your first $50 donation from a new donor. To increase your chances of retaining that donor, here are our 6 top tips for nailing the thank-you call: 

  1. Make thank-you calls a regular part of your team’s workflow. Implement a process to determine what donors need to receive thank you calls and who will make the calls. These can be divided among your development staff, board members, or even loyal volunteers. By carving out time every week, you’ll ensure these calls are a part of your workflow rather than an afterthought.
  2. Make the call in a timely manner. If you’re calling two months after the first gift, you have missed the boat. Within a week or two would be ideal, when the gift is still fresh on the donor’s mind. If that’s not possible, within a month is still acceptable.
  3. Reassure the donor you’re not asking for money. The last thing you want after making a generous gift is to be asked for more donations 72 hours later. Lead with this before the donor has the chance to get annoyed or defensive.
  4. Thank the donor sincerely and share the impact of their gift. Donors will already know and align with your mission. What they might not know is exactly how you accomplish that. So the thank-you call is an opportunity to be specific about how their gift supported your work. For example, maybe it was used to provide clothes or meals or mental health services.  
  5. If they don’t seem receptive, end the call quickly and politely. Don’t try to force conversation. Not everyone will want to chat for 20 minutes about why your work is so meaningful to them. That’s totally fine. But some people will want to, and those calls could be the beginning of a strong relationship and lifelong donor.
  6. Have a plan before you make the call! We recommend having a sample call script on hand and a space to type or hand-write notes if the donor is willing to share more information about how they get connected. (For a sample call script you can use during thank you calls, download today’s freebie.)