One Call, That’s All

“One call, that’s all” is the motto of a local personal injury attorney, a plumber, and a window cleaner in our community.  I am sure there are more businesses who use the catch-phrase.

It makes me wonder how many social sector organization’s catch their clients, donors, volunteers, interested community members on the first call.  I often hear from volunteers who say it took many calls and even a personal visit before they were assigned a volunteering opportunity.  Donors who wish to ask a few questions before making a contribution speak of playing automated telephone system hopscotch.  Individuals calling to enroll in programs share colorful experiences of trying to complete the registration process.

The attorney catches the client on the first call because it means a potential windfall.  Why are many social sector organizations not meeting the same standard?  If you are congratulations, it is part of your competitive advantage! 

Beyond Donation to Contribution

I donate to organizations and causes that generally align with my personal values.  I am usually moved because they grab my attention.  The organization is remarkable enough that I take the time to donate.  Many causes fall into this category and most get a donation of some predetermined value.

I contribute to organizations who provide me a chance to engage and interact.  A staff member calls to ask for advice.  I attend an event and suggest a resource to enhance the program’s effectiveness.  I communicate with a board member who helps keep me advised on the enterprise’s focus.  I serve on a task force.  I bring the organization ideas and feel the resources are considered.  I am able to use my talents on behalf of the cause.  I understand how I can impact the mission and programs of the organization.

I donate to these organizations also but at a much higher level.  Not only do they receive a financial contribution ten times greater but they get my talents.  I do not have time to contribute to every nonprofit but appreciate the ones that provide the opportunity.

Are you trying to cultivate donors or contributors?  How do you know which approach will most engage an individual?

Fans vs. Donors


  • Pay money to attend their team’s games and events.
  • Central focus is on the game on the field.
  • Purchase and wear clothing with the team’s logo.
  • Follow their team on any availible media (cable television, internet, talk radio).
  • Frequent chat rooms.
  • Wake-up at midnight to welcome home their newly crowned champions at the airport.
  • Hold season tickets. Often passing the tickets down to younger generations.
  • Take their friends, business associates and kids to the game.
  • Fans can almost always find somebody to give away their tickets.
  • Pay to sponsor the team- want to have their business associated with the team’s brand.


  • Pay money to attend events- may receive a reduced price as a donor or member.
  • Wear clothing with your organization’s logo in appreciation for a donation.
  • Nonprofits use social media more effectively than any other sector- the question is anyone listening, are donors following?
  • Bring family and friends to events from time-to-time.
  • Donors are typically passive.
  • Frequent social events that may also highlight an organization’s programs.
  • Donor Recognition ranges from wanting prominent naming opportunities to complete anonymity.

Nonprofit organizations spend so much time cultivating donors but we do not always think of making them fans of our organizations. What would change if your donors were fans first and donors second?

If You Did Not Know

What would it look like if you were an Executive Director, Director of Development, or Board Member and did not know how much each donor had contributed to your organization? If you simply received the names of all the donors with no filters, how would you treat each one? Would it be different than how you steward them today? Who would you select to spend time with and who to communicate with? How many donors would tell you directly how much they gave? If you have one thousand donors for your enterprise, what would be important to making them feel all appreciated for their contributions?

I think many of us are seeing 80-90% of the stewardship being concentrated on the top 5-10% of donors. It is an understandable strategy since the top tier of donors usually give the vast majority of the money, some organizations getting 85-90% of their funding from the a small group of leadership donors. In many ways some versions of nonprofit philanthropy reminds me of the legacy airline business model. First Class and Business Class fares pay for the majority of the cost to operate a flight. First Class gets the most space, the lie-flat suite, finest food, and best ration of flight attendants to passengers. When you disembark from an international flight you have arrived at the same destination as everyone else on the aircraft, regardless of the class you traveled. For some the celebration is in the arrival. Others remember the in-flight. If you have had the joy of sitting in the middle seat of coach for an international red-eye and your final memory of the journey is walking past all the luxury suites it may leave you with a a different impression than the former occupants of those seats.

Would you consider your organization’s stewardship efforts to be inclusive? Do all your donors feel their contribution was put towards important priorities? Does your organization have fans who donate with passion or do you have members who donate out of obligation?