15 Tips to Prioritize Donor Calls

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

As some people know, I started my career in corporate sales. This required a lot of cold calling. (It also required dropping by offices unannounced and trying to ignore the “no soliciting sign” at the reception desk … But that’s another story.)

Making calls can be tough. It’s hard to reach people. When you do, they are ready to hang up before you say your first words. They can even be rude if the call comes at a bad time.

But sometimes, the phone is the best vehicle for donor communication, especially if you can’t get an in-person or video meeting.

Here are some techniques to improve your outcomes:

  1. Schedule a regular block of time for calls. You are guaranteed to have more energy and success if you can “get in the zone” and have your dedicated phone time.
  2. Use your high-energy time. It’s tempting to put off calls until you finish everything else on your to-do list. But that often relegates donor calls to the times when you are not at your best. Make the calls a priority to achieve better results.
  3. Set a goal. I know one successful fundraiser who committed to making 50 calls before he took a break.
  4. Prepare in advance. Gather donor names, phone numbers, and background notes the night before so you can hit the ground running.
  5. Give the donor a heads up. Send a short report to the donor beforehand to give the call context, then refer to it on your call. (e.g. “Have you seen the report I sent you?”)
  6. Know your purpose. Just like when you go to a donor meeting, you must think about the purpose of your call. Is it to secure a future meeting? Say thanks? Share impact? Solicit a new gift? What is the one primary thing you must get across in the call?
  7. Write a script. No, you won’t read the script to the donor. But have talking points in front of you, especially during initial calls. This will give you additional confidence.
  8. Stand up and smile. The late fundraising expert, Jerry Panas, gave this great advice, and it’s true – you really can hear a smile in someone’s voice!
  9. Say thank you and share some good news. Even if your primary purpose is something else, don’t skip this part. Tell the donor how their gift made a difference.
  10. Prepare questions and listen to the donor’s responses. Consider what you want to learn about the donor’s interests or motivation and let that guide your questions.
  11. Think local. Take a few minutes to reflect on what is going on in the donor’s city or state such as what’s happening politically or the status of a major sports team. These can be good icebreakers.
  12. Anticipate questions or objections. Put yourself in the donor’s shoes. What questions would you raise from your presentation?
  13. Wrap up well. Confirm the future call, meeting, or action. Thank the donor for their time.
  14. Update your database. Track your notes so you are prepared for the next engagement, and calendar any follow up actions needed.
  15. Give yourself a reward. This is tough work! Reward yourself with a walk around the block, your favorite coffee (or a drink!) when you reach your goal.

I can hear the objections now … “But Ann, what if I hate picking up the phone?”

  • Ask someone on your team to schedule the call with the donor in advance. That way, the donor is expecting to hear from you, and you really can’t avoid the call.
  • Use every other means at your disposal to stay engaged with the donor. This means personal emails, handwritten notes, texts, webinars, short videos, etc. It won’t take the place of calls, but you won’t have to make them quite so often (though always make sure the donor knows you’re open to a call – some donors really appreciate being on the phone).
  • Know that it gets better with time and practice!

Keeping donors engaged is fundamental to a good stewardship program. Like they say about politicians: donors don’t have to like you, but donors should feel that you like them. A phone call is a powerful tool, so start dialing!


Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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