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How to Increase Donations by 39%

Here's a killer strategy for increasing your gifts by up to 39 percent.

And what is the magic ingredient? It's your board members, who else?

Can you possibly employ ONE FUNDRAISING STRATEGY and have it return up to a 39 percent increase in gifts?

Yes, it may sound impossible—but it's true.

Here's your chance to put your board members to work where they won't have to ask—all they have to do is thank.

This is one of my NO ASK fundraising strategies for board members. It's a perfect place to put your board members who are nervous about soliciting to work.

It's one of my favorite ways for board members to impact the bottom line directly—without soliciting.

Thank You Calls to Donors

Try this test, and track your results. You'll be amazed.

The next time you send out an appeal, employ your standard thank you processes—letters, personal notes, etc.

But select out a random group of donors for a special thank you treatment:

  • Organize your board members to make thank you phone calls to these donors within 24 hours of the gift's receipt. It's really important that they make the call within 24 hours of when your organization receives the gift.
  • Have your board members talk to a real person if at all possible.
  • After several tries, they can just leave a message that simply thanks the donor.
  • The phone calls are NOT about asking for another gift. They are for stewardship only.

If your board members are adventurous, they can ask the donor why he/she chose to make this gift. They can pull out the donor's story—and the donor will be even more pleased and honored.

THEN, a few months later, send another solicitation out to all of your donors—both the ones who received the extra thank you phone call and those who just received your regular thank yous.

And when repeat gifts come in, compare the results of both groups.

You'll find, when all other things are equal, that the donors who received a prompt, personal thank you from a board member within 24 hours of a gift being received will give up to 39 percent more than the other group.

The Original Research Findings

Fundraising pioneer Penelope Burk performed the original research that found these amazing results. She's the originator of Donor Centered Fundraising, a fundamental paradigm shift that changes the emphasis away from the organization's needs and instead focuses on what the donor wants.

Penelope Burk shared these statistics on board member thank yous in her pathbreaking book Donor Centered Fundraising.

  • Donors received a thank you phone call from a board member within 24 hours of receiving the gift.
  • The next time they were solicited, they gave 39 percent more than the other donors who did not receive a call.
  • After 14 months, those called were giving 42 percent more.


I know several organizations that have tried to implement this strategy but could not achieve board member buy-in for the project. They found that board members would say, "Sure, I'll make some thank you phone calls." But they failed.

Many of the board members were not prompt. They were lackadaisical. They took assignments but didn't follow through.

Here's How to Make It Happen

  1. Share the statistics with your board members about the amazing results that happen when donors receive prompt, personal thank you calls.

    Be sure they understand the "why" of the project and the upside positive potential from making calls promptly.

  2. Have one board member take charge of the project and create a small committee to work with him or her. (Board members respond better to a request from a peer than they do to a request from a staffer.)
  3. Make sure the committee members are all focused, committed, understand that prompt timing is essential, and are ready and willing to participate. (Don't ask ALL board members to call—only those who are willing to commit seriously.)
  4. Make specific phone call assignments to each committee member. Don't send out a whole list to the entire committee and hope that someone will make the calls.
  5. Have each board member report back weekly on the results of their calls.

One organization I know had all of the board members post their thank you call results on a shared Google document. That way each board member could see who was making their calls.

Word had it that a competition took hold and each board member tried to outdo the others. The busiest person on the board—a busy lawyer—made sure his calls were as up to date as—or more up to date than—all the others.

A True Success Story

I have to close with a story of my own:

When I was consulting with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center a few years ago, I dragged my boyfriend to their annual fundraising auction. It was on a Sunday night and wasn't a big social event, but it was a nice, happy gathering.

I told my boyfriend, who had plenty of money, to bring his wallet because these were good people. I dragged him around deliberately and pointed out items that I liked.

Well, bless his heart, he bought all this stuff that night.

Then the next day I was sitting in my office—it was about 1 in the afternoon. And I got a call from my friend.

"Gail," he said, "you won't believe what has just happened!" He was clearly wrought up.

"What??" I replied anxiously.

"I'm speechless," he said. "I just this minute got a phone call from a board member of the Rape Crisis Center thanking me for ... for ... for being the largest donor at the auction last night!!

"I just can't believe it!" he gushed. "I've given money all over the country and I've NEVER gotten a call from a BOARD MEMBER!"

I could just feel him beaming all the way over the phone line. He was absolutely thrilled.

And the Rape Crisis Center had him forever at that point.

The next year, he was asking me, "Is the Rape Crisis Center having their auction this fall? I haven't gotten an invitation yet."

That year, he bought an entire table and hosted the president of the largest foundation in North Carolina at his table.

Try this tactic and see what your results are!

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE
© 2010, Gail Perry

Gail Perry is the author of Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action and founder of Gail Perry Associates, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based consulting and training firm.

Topics: Fundraising