Do Thank-You Calls increase charitable giving?
Well, this piece of research found that there is “no effect of the calls on subsequent giving behavior”. That would mean from a fundraising point of view, it makes little financial sense to spend/waste money on thanking our donors.
Of course this would be a blow to my #delighter religion…but wait…
There are 3 sides to every story and there are 3 ways we can take this.
- We can accept it as fact. Like being told the average person has less than 2 legs and launching a business to sell single shoes.
- We can dismiss it. We just know thank you calls work. Yes so many things in fundraising are counter-intuitive…but not this one.
- We can realise that…live everything…the truth is somewhere in the middle. Let’s learn what we can from it and ask ourselves what we can do better. All the while being cautious of taking them as gospel. Remember to use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination.
So, as a write this blog from atop a fence…here are my problems with the research and the lessons I’m taking from it:
- The experiments involved nearly 600,000 individual donors and 500,000 thank-you calls between 2011 and 2017. The vast majority of the calls were to public television donors…perhaps a much more tangible transaction than most of our nonprofits are used to. The rest of the donors were a single charity. So while this research is mammoth, let’s remember your organisation and your donors are different. We learn from others, but we don’t accept them as universal truths.
- The calls were made 3-7 months after the initial donation…which is simply not good enough. I can’t remember what I did last week. Let’s remember that the act of giving is like spinning plates…we make the decision to donate and we feel good because of it. But almost immediately life continues to kick us and we’re bombarded by distractions. Our role as fundraisers is to keep that plate spinning, so your calls need to be landing within days.
- Two call attempts were made, with a voicemail being left on the second attempt. In my telephone training I always recommend leaving a voicemail on the first attempt. This flags to the supporter that it’s a harmless call…not their bank or their ex-boyfriend…and so they’re more like to pick up the phone the next time we call them.
- The experiment found that the calls had no impact on subsequent donation behavior in either experiment. However, they found that those who were reached, and especially those who engaged positively with the caller, were significantly more likely to give in the year following the intervention than those who were not reached or those who responded negatively. This suggests that responses to thank-you calls could be used by non-profits to identify members who are most likely to give again. In many ways I feel like this undermines the conclusion…in fact, if we are doing these calls right then can see that they’re justified.
- The callers reached (spoke to or voicemail) about 75% of donors. God I love telephone fundraising…what other medium gives us that level of effectiveness?
- Thank you calls are not just about thanking. They’re about Affirmation, Verification and Feedbackation. Yes we’re affirming the decision was a good decision. But we’re also verifying their details: capturing email where we’ve missed it and making sure their address is correct, etc. We’re also looking for feedback…don’t you want to know why this person donated? And don’t you want to give them an opportunity to have their say so they feel invested?
- Thank you calls are also about opening doors. I recommend against using a script (because your donors don’t follow that script) so that the conversation goes to unexpected places. Out of these calls you’ll find corporate partners, volunteers, beneficiaries, fundraisers, introducers and more. Unless you have a rigid conversation…then you might as well be speaking to a voicemail.
- The call script was wetter than a sack of drunk otters. And my biggest learning from this whole thing is that, if you’re going to call 50 donors or 500,000 donors, spend a sliver of time and money to bring me in to make sure these calls are not a total bummer. Their script needs more First names, Questions. Conversation, Human Personality, Plain English and Impact. Here’s one of the scripts they used with some of my suggestions: