Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spreading the Joy, the Thank a Thon

I woke up this morning tired beyond belief. I didn't get home until after 10pm last night, which is really late for a girl that gets up at 5 every morning! Regardless of lack of rest, I cannot be mad. For the past two nights we have had our first ever thank a thon at my organization.

I have implemented this wherever I go and think its one of the best investments of time effort and money an organization can do. What's a thank a thon? Think the exact opposite of a phone a thon... Student callers make calls for hours on end, just to thank donors, nothing less than an honest and sincere expression of gratitude!! Calling donors just to say thanks is a magical thing, they're always waiting for the other show to drop, awaiting an ask... Surprise!! There isn't one! The students love it too because they get to express appreciation to those that have supported them directly.

So here are some tips and ideas for how to conduct your own thank a thon!

1. Segment wisely: we used 5 segments and ordered them in priority: scholarship donors, donors of 10 or more consecutive calendar years at any amount, mid level donors, first time givers, and those in our top giving society of $1 million plus lifetime cumulative 2. Separate thank you scripts were written for each group and placed at the top Of the color coded sheet, with spaces for whether or not they reached someone, voicemail or bad # and a comments section.

3. In addition I used this opportunity to acquire emails and so anyone with a blank email was asked to provide one so we could thank them digitally!

4. Follow up with those we couldn't reach or left a voicemail will be digitally through email thank yous with photos of the student callers 5. Although I was unable to do it this year, in years past at other organizations, I have invited staff, faculty, senior administration and trustees to join in and have done a reverse pyramid thank a thon. Students call the biggest donors with people like the president of the university or trustees calling first time donors or loyalty donors, imagine making a first time gift of $25 and getting a call from the chairman of the board!! It's magical!

6. For those consecutive givers I always put how many years they have given so try can be acknowledged properly, it is amazing how that special touch goes such a long way!!!

7. There is NEVER an ask... That doesn't mean we don't raise money, this year in two nights we pulled in an additional $25k from people who were overwhelmed by the simple act of being thanked... Who says stewardship doesn't make money???

8. The data acquired from these calls is valuable and is immediately updated in our database, from numbers that no longer work, to new spouses or unfortunately people who have passed on, it is a wonderful way to help cull information!

So what are (originally my phone autocorrected this to "ate"... comical) the downsides?? As you reinforce a culture of gratitude at your organization, there will be questions from donors and awkward pauses while they wait for you to make an ask that never happens, but in reality it is win win on all sides, student phone a thon callers see what it's like to be grateful, and donors are delighted by the simple act of thankfulness.

I would love to hear your stories, examples or questions!


  1. Love this list of thank you tips! It is so important to properly thank donors, especially when in that "courting" phase with the first gift...even if it's a modest $25.

    I'd actually argue that it's very important in relationship building to personally thank those particular donors (small gifts of $25-50. When major donors know they're giving to a scholarship endowment, a capital campaign, or a particular project, they know the impact they're making. Often times these small gifts are given with the attitude of "just doing my part" or "probably won't make a difference." Having a board member or another call personally to say "it really makes a difference to me" pours a HUGE part of the foundation for a long-term relationship.

    Such calls and other thank yous also give donors a chance to ask the questions that they want to ask, but haven't had the opportunity to ask. Additionally, it's an opportunity for the callers to record donor reactions and characteristics that would be helpful for future cultivation.

    Thanks again for the post...too often we focus on the ask and not enough on the thanks.

  2. Thank you so much for this list! When I started my career in development in the college phonathon, we used to do thank you calls and it made such a difference and they always waited for the ask that never came.

    I now work at a large social service agency and we've begun instituting hand written thank you notes for all new donors $100 or more written by Board of Directors and Board of Overseers gift. There is nothing I want to do more than have our kids make calls (we have a teen club that promotes leadership and philanthropy--what better way to learn this then thanking those that have helped you).

    Our CEO currently calls all of our donors that make a gift of $1,000+ and anyone else we ask him to call (he's AMAZING like that). I LOVE LOVE LOVE your idea of having he and Chair of our board calling new $25 donors. It shows that your gifts matter.

    Quick story about the power of thank you calls. We received a gift from a donor that typically gave $1,000 annually but this year made a special gift of $5,000. Our CEO would have normally called them but made a special call to thank them for going above and beyond. Apparently the donor's acknowledgement letter and receipt got lost in the mail or sent to the wrong address. When the donor called to ask for it to be resent they kept reiterating that they weren't angry and really appreciated the "lovely" call. Imagine if we hadn't made the call. Could have had huge long term implications.

    Thanks so much for another great post!