• Nonprofit Learning Lab

The 140-year Old Technology that Still Raises the Most Money

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

This is a guest blog post and is being posted with permission from Jeremy Gregg of Gregg Partners.


Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. And today, despite all of the bells and whistles of the Internet, it remains a fundraiser’s greatest tool.


Direct mail is very effective. Email can also be great, if used properly. Facebook and Twitter are right for some organizations, and huge wastes of time for others.

But after 140 years, the telephone remains an unrivalled tool in the hands of a talented fundraising team.


I was reminded of that truth by one of my fundraising heroes, Jerold Panas (of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners), who has raised more money than anyone I have ever met.


How I Learned This Lesson

As my friend Andrew Kramer recently wrote as a guest-blog here, “increasingly, the best and only way to raise money from new prospects is to keep working to build a strong relationship with your donors.”


I learned that lesson very clearly early in my career.


An envelope had arrived from one of the wealthiest families in town. I was incredibly excited to open, and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw it included a folded check. They had never donated, so I was really excited to see what my latest letter had generated for the organization where I was working.


I unfolded the check to see it was for … $50.


That’s right. FIFTY. Boy, did I feel successful!


After a few deep breaths, I then began to think of our options. And I realized that their first official gift fundamentally changed their relationship with us. Sure, it was only fifty bucks, but they were now officially a donor.


We contacted them to thank them, even though it was a small gift. We then nurtured that relationship over the years with additional calls, notes, and communications. Eventually, we received an unsolicited $50,000 from them. And when we were launching a capital campaign a few years later, we successfully secured a multi-million dollar gift from this family.


From two figures to seven figures in a few years. These things work.


3 Action Items for Fundraisers

Build a list of the top 10% of your donors. Rank them by order of importance (which is not entirely their total giving amount … rank them by how critical their support has been to your success. Someone who has given you $1,000 per year for ten years is more valuable than someone who gave you $10,000 once. Trust me on this … a long-term committed donor is the most likely prospect for major gifts and bequests, so you want to love people who have loved you.).Set aside a specific time just ONCE per week to call these donors JUST to thank them (do not ask them for money, to volunteer, or anything). Just tell them how much their gift matter and that you wanted them to know that they are important to you. Even if it is just 30 minutes per week, commit to that time. And tell your team to guard it so you have no interruptions.Try it for four weeks. Lock yourself in an office without the Internet and make your calls. Don’t give up for four weeks. You can give up in week five, but treat this like a 28-day rehab. You’ve got to kick the habit of under-appreciating your donors.


Questions to Ask Afterwards

After the 4-week trial, evaluate your success. How many of the Top 10% did you reach? What conversations did you have? Are there any who now deserve a hand-written note to follow-up to the conversation as a second thank you? And most importantly …  can you keep doing this next month?


What would happen if everyone on your team did this? For example, each week, could you give a list of 3 donors to every member of your team and ask them to call them just to say “Thank you”?  Could you include the program team in doing that, not just development officers?


And what about giving each of your board members 1 person to call each month? They might hate calling people to ask for money, but they might LOVE calling people to thank them for giving money. And that could then become the gateway to turning them into fundraisers for you.

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