Donor Appreciation: The Leadership Courtesy Call

With so much pressure to get things done — to ‘deliver’ — we tend to think of others only in terms of what we need from them. There are stewardship programs that incorporate the Thank You letters and emails, and annual stewardship events that acknowledge the impact that donors are making (and these are wonderful and necessary actions, and some organisations do more, which is great), but what can be done by the leaders of organisations to demonstrate donor appreciation?


The internet has provided a plethora of fundraising opportunities for organisations; however, long-term and sustainable fundraising success will not come only through focusing on technology, but by cultivating and strengthening relationships — both personal and institutional. New technology can help with relationship building, but it is beneficial for organisational leadership to use the phone for its original purpose — to talk to another human being.

The ‘courtesy call’ is to check in to see how someone is doing and to ask them how life is treating them. It is not to ask someone for a gift or if they can do you a favour. Good fundraisers are, traditionally, the ones who make the courtesy call, yet, an enhanced practice is encouraging leadership (CEO and Board members) to make the courtesy call. Although social media and all of today’s technology is supposed to bring everyone “closer”, studies indicate that not everyone is benefiting, and we are feeling even more isolated — How many people on your Facebook list have been to your house for dinner? How many people on your LinkedIn network have you actually spoken to?


Having organisation and volunteer leadership make calls to donors is a great way to advance philanthropy without it feeling intimidating for those associated with the organisation who are not comfortable asking for gifts; most importantly, it makes a donor feel valued. To implement the courtesy call is to support the notion of relationship fundraising — “people give to people” or “friend raising is fundraising”. Further, the courtesy call is easy and can be done in a taxi on the way to the airport or walking to the next meeting!


What does the typical courtesy call look like? Simple and focused on the person on the other end of the electrical signal. A courtesy call is a demonstrated act of taking a personal interest in another human being; it is an act of kindness showing much-needed donor appreciation.


(Organisation leadership has been provided name, contact information, recent donor history, allocation of gifts, and any type of ice breaker — although having an ice breaker is not always necessary.)

Leadership: Hello, may I speak with (donor name)?

Donor: Speaking.

Leadership: (Donor name), this is (leadership name) and I am the (CEO/Board Member) with (Organisation) and this is just a courtesy call to see how you are doing. (You may need to lightheartedly say that you are not asking for any money, as the Donor may be on the defensive if they are not accustomed to receiving such calls.)

Donor: (Conversation reply.)

Leadership/Donor: (A conversation takes place. It is acceptable to provide one or two points of recent successes of Organisation, as long it doesn’t move to a solicitation (restraint). It is important for leadership to listen and take an interest in what the donor is saying.)

Leadership: Well, (donor name) I am going to need to let you go as I rush off to (catch my plane, another meeting, etc.), but I really appreciate the time you have taken to speak with me and your continued support of our efforts. It has a been a pleasure speaking with you.

Donor: Thank you. I appreciate the call. Good-bye.

Leadership: Good-bye.


What takes place next on the donor’s end is perhaps the greatest impact of the courtesy call. After hanging up, a typical donor will turn to their colleague or partner who will ask, “Who was that? And what did they want?” The donor will reply, “That was the CEO of Organisation who called to see how I was doing, and, believe or not, they didn’t want anything.”

It is nice is be thought of by others, and perhaps most surprising when it isn’t prompted by particular circumstances or events, but by care from Leadership. Donors appreciate being thought of for more than just what’s in their wallet.