I recently re-read an article in the Washington Post on the new phone etiquette. Their hot take? “Text first and never leave a voice mail.”

And while I get the sentiment behind that, it’s not universal – certainly not when it comes to communication with donors, many of whom are 60 years or older and remember when fax machines and voice mail were brand new.

As the article called out, the phone has been around for 147 years, the iPhone for 16 years, and FaceTime video voice mails came into existence just 6 months ago. Communication was static for a long time, but technological advancements have changed the environment fairly quickly. Add in email, smart watches, and Zoom, and there is a dizzying array of ways to connect.

So what’s the best way to contact your donors?

Step one: Any donor you manage should be qualified, meaning they’ve agreed to engage with you about your organization’s work and the role they play.

Ideally, you’ve learned their personal communication preferences too. If you don’t know how they prefer to be contacted, ask them. You can use regular mail or an electronic survey tool. You can also call or email and ask:

“Juan, as we start a new year, I want to check in on the best ways to connect with you. Of these options – phone, Zoom, email, text, regular mail, getting together – what ways work for you? Also, are there any of these you just don’t like?”

Step two: Think through how you use each option available to you. As the WaPo article calls out: “Emotions are for voice, facts are for text.” So how does that play out?

Here are some things to consider about the different ways you might reach out to your donors:


Many people do find answering a call a bit stressful if they don’t know what the call is about. That’s why we recommend noting in your Intro Letter that you’ll be calling in the next week for a brief call to learn about the donor’s interest in the organization’s work. Or send an email, stating you’ll try to connect by phone in the next few days to talk about XYZ. In both situations, you’re setting the context for the call.


While WaPo says to never leave them, I don’t recommend adhering to that. BUT, do keep them very short and to the point: “Sally, this is NAME at ORG. Thank you for your generous gift to ORG. I’ll send a short email follow up to see if we can set a time to connect.” Be sure to enunciate; transcriptions can get things very wrong.


Texting is a good follow-up or confirmation tool. Again, be brief. Something like, “Samantha, I’m confirming that we’re meeting at Delancy Restaurant at 3 pm today. John Smith.” Pay attention to language and punctuation based on the age of your donor. The form is prone to abbreviations and lack of punctuation, but you’re using it for professional communication, so don’t ignore basics. Also, because you are not the donor’s BFF or grandchild, state the donor’s name and your name as you may not be in their phone contacts. Once you’ve used texting with the donor, you don’t need to be that formal going forward.


Use email for a longer message than text but not the equivalent of a full letter or proposal. Remember, most people are reading these on their phone, so the scroll factor is important. More than two scrolls and you’ve likely lost your reader. Test sending a message to yourself and read it on your phone to see what your donor experiences. Attachments are likely completely ignored. Limit the number of links as well as they can be a distraction for your main message or call to action. Basically don’t create a job for your donor by sending a bunch of stuff they have to print out to read or make sense of.

Video Calls

Whatever service you prefer (FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, etc.), video calls can be a great way to connect. FaceTime makes a direct contact via the smartphone, the same as a phone call, and can be startling if the recipient isn’t prepared for it. It may be a good idea to text first and then place the call. (Depending on your smartphone, you may be able to leave a video voice mail – keep it short and be sure you’re still during the recording and your full face is in the frame.) The meeting applications are best set up for a specific day and time, ideally gaining agreement on the meeting and sending a calendar invite to increase the likelihood of your donor being available for the discussion.

Two of the most creative ways I’ve seen FaceTime used:

  • A gift officer was sitting with a donor at lunch and quickly FaceTimed a colleague who was at volunteer day packing lunches so the donor could see the work in action.
  • A donor wanted to tour a facility, but it wasn’t possible to get there in person, so a gift officer walked her through the tour using FaceTime.

Bottom line: calling a donor on the phone is not a thing of the past.

But it’s important to set up the expectation for the call. Then be thoughtful and persistent in trying different days of the week and different times. And be sure to provide value in your call. Be ready with a few good questions and information that will matter to the donor.

At the end of the day, your communication has to be received for it to be meaningful. So be sure you know what your donor wants and values.


Diana Frazier is a Senior Client Experience Leader at Veritus Group. With over 32 years of experience in the non-profit sector, Diana has helped organizations meet strategic objectives through fund and product development, marketing, and operations management. She has worked on staff or as a consultant in a wide range of non-profits including print and media organizations, missions, higher education, health, crisis counseling, and churches.