It took Columbus seven years to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella to finance their expedition. It took enormous persistence. And without that enormous persistence, he never would have been in a position to make the discovery of the Americas.
Every great MGO practices persistence.  Here are a few pointers on the subject, thanks to Debi Dunham, a valued colleague, who contributed this material for our blog.
When you want to contact a donor at his or her office it can be a challenge.  But try some of these ideas on for size and see how you do:

  1. Ask the gatekeeper: “When is the best time to reach (donor name)?” Call back then.
  2. Vary your calling times. If you always make your calls at the same time of day, vary your routine. Call at different times throughout the day and throughout the week.
  3. When you do reach a donor, ask her for alternate phone numbers. Ten years ago we generally had only one phone number. Today there are myriad ways to reach donors. Your donor might have a second home or be a snow-bird. Make sure that you get as much contact information as the donor is willing to disclose.
  4. Call donors outside of business hours. If you’re calling a donor at his/her office, high-level decision-makers are frequently in their offices at times that their secretaries or assistants are not and often during those times they answer their own phones. Calling before 9:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. can often help you bypass voicemail and reach your donor directly. Even if your donor isn’t working, he/she may be very busy and calling one evening or on the weekend may result in a contact.
  5. Call donors during their lunch hour. Particularly for working donors, if the donor does not have a lunch meeting scheduled, the donor could very well be at his/her desk having a working lunch. During these times gatekeepers are frequently not there and the donor might actually be answering the phone.
  6. Consider blocking your organizational ID and phone number. Depending on the state in which you live and, of course, your work situation, you may be able to block your organization’s phone number from showing up on a donor’s caller ID. Donors may ignore your call because they believe it is a solicitation call from your organization. Blocking the caller ID can overcome this resistance. Using your personal cell phone can be an option. If you cannot block your line, dial *67 before you dial the donor’s number. This strategy will allow you to block the line for that call.

Not only do you have to be persistent in making the calls in various ways and times, but then, when you do speak with the donors, there are some tips to keep them engaged…
When it comes to calling a donor, many people become reluctant to pick up the phone. They fear the donor will think they are calling to ask for more money. Here are two useful tips for what to say.

  1. First, thank them sincerely for their gifts. “I’m calling today from The Fellowship to just thank you for your gift. It made a huge difference to us.”
  2. Second, give one specific example of a story of the difference their gift meant to your organization. Let them know you really mean it. Share a story of a life changed because of their gift.

You may be surprised when the donor wants to talk further. The easiest way to begin to build or deepen your relationship is by asking them a few simple questions.
If their gift was designated for a specific project then the best question to ask is, ” May I ask how you became interested in this issue in the first place?” That way you’ll know how to keep them engaged going forward. Before you know it you may find yourself engaged in a real conversation with a passionate donor.
Finally, once they are comfortable and feel connected to you, ask for the visit. There is absolutely no substitute for talking to your donors. Even if you get an answering machine, leave a message with the same kind of information in it…a heartfelt thank you plus one example of how their gift made a difference, and do leave your phone number for the donor to call you back if he or she would like to speak further.
Remember that your donors are people who already care about your work. They will be happy to speak with a real person who is working hard to fulfill the organization’s mission.
Even in cold calling, “Eighty percent of new sales are made after the fifth contact, yet the majority of sales people give up after the second call” (

  • Invest in some non-fundraising communication with the donor, specifically aimed at engaging the donor.
  • Email a video thank you from the CEO. In closing he says, “One of my trusted staff will be calling you. Please take the call and connect with him.”
  • Send a personal thank you note, along with a special donor survey which asks the donors to tell you what they are most passionate about re: your organization.
  • Send a brief report on whatever specific project/program brought that donor in and how this gift made a difference.
  • Send an email with a photo of the person they helped to reach…or of the project.
  • Leave a voicemail with an update on the funding of that project…”We are excited to share with you that another generous donor, like yourself, gave significantly to X, and we are now only $5000 away from reaching our goal…Thank you so much for partnering with us”.
  • When researching the donors, look for other areas of interest they may have. Then find an article or event and email them that info.

Persistence is an act of your will.  You have to make yourself do it.  Calendar the actions you need to take today and the rest of this week.  Do it now.