Etiquite for Contacting Donors

Dear Kim:

The staff and Board of my organization have truly stepped up to the plate to participate in fundraising. Setting up meetings with donors, of course, is the tough part. What do you do when you get an answering machine? Should you leave a message or just keep trying in the following days? How many messages should you leave in the matter of a few weeks? And what should you say? It seems incredibly easy to flub those up.

-Anxious About Answering Apparati

Dear Apparati:

I see you are a Latin scholar as well as a fundraiser. Perhaps you know this quote from Virgil, “Audaces fortuna iuvat.” And for those who don’t, “Fortune favors the bold.”

The electronic moat has kept many a request from being successfully completed, and it is one of the most important things to prepare for.

I suggest that you do leave a message on an answering machine, particularly if you are following up on a letter you sent. Prepare your message and make it short. “This is Kim Klein at 510-893-8933. I am calling to follow up on a letter I hope you received telling you about People for Everything Good and Against Everything Bad. We are hoping you will consider making a major gift and want to have a chance to talk with you personally. Please call me at your convenience. Again, my number is 510-893-8933 or you can write to me at I will also try you again. Thanks so much.”

Of course, you don’t expect that the person will call or write, and so you call again, and you call at least three times. In whatever is your last call, change your message to: “I am sorry to have missed you each time I called. I will send you a packet of information in the mail and hope you can see your way clear to helping us. Again, do feel free to call me at — or e-mail me at —. Thanks for all you do.” Many times the way a person says “NO” is simply to not respond to any effort to contact them.

As you decide how many messages to leave, take into account anything you know about them. For example, some people rarely listen to their messages and don’t know you have called. If a prospect has a number of people in his or her house, someone else may erase the message before the prospect hears it.

As a fundraiser, your job is to find the line between persistence and pestering. Three calls feels like persistence and is generally not annoying. Remember that at least half of the people you contact personally will not give you any money and so don’t feel discouraged when you cannot get through to someone. Just keep at it.

Good luck.

-Kim Klein