Megan Carder, VP & Managing Director  ●  10/22/2019

A Donor Called You and She’s Upset. Now What?


Ever had one of those days — the phone’s ringing off the hook, and with every “Hello” you’re met with a frustrated donor? If you work in development, I bet this has happened to you once or twice — likely after an Acquisition campaign.

Having to field so many calls can feel like a grind, but in fact it can be a huge opportunity! Think about it, you have the donor on the phone! Unlike mail or digital communications, you’ve now found yourself in a position to have a two-way conversation. It’s a unique chance to alleviate their concerns and cultivate their interests. Exciting, right?

But how do you take their questions and concerns and turn them into relationship gold? It’s easy if you have a plan.

  • Be Prepared.

    Know the kinds of questions donors ask most frequently and be ready with an educated answer. Your confidence and immediacy will be seen as credible.
  • Be Honest.

    Speaking candidly with your donor instills a level of trust. If they call — with complaints or praise — it means they care enough to pick up the phone. They want, and deserve, real answers. Bring them into the fold, make them feel important and deserving of the information you share. Real information + conversation = a deeper connection.
  • Be Forward Thinking.

    Don’t just answer the question, open up a dialogue. Get the donor talking about their interests, think through other interactions they might be interested in, keep them engaged beyond the one-time call.


Here are a few examples of how to put this into practice the next time your donor or a prospect reaches out to you:



Let’s start with a common one, the question we all hear right after our acquisition mail hits mailboxes: “How did you get my name?”

  • Be Prepared: Make sure everyone in your organization who responds to donor inquiries (including your President/CEO) knows when mail is going out to prospect lists and provide them with a loose script, or at least talking points, for how to respond to this question.
  • Be Honest: Don’t beat around the bush. It’s OK to let the donor know you rented their name. Give them as much detail as you’re comfortable providing.
  • Be Forward Thinking: Build your answer in a way that draws them closer to your mission. This call doesn’t mean they won’t donate — who knows, you might secure a gift over the phone!

Here’s what that sounds like:

I’m so glad you received our letter! Throughout the year, XYZ Food Bank rents donor files from like-minded organizations to find people in our community who want to help the thousands of children, men, and women right here who are struggling to put enough food on the table. Because of your giving history to other nonprofits, we can see you have immense compassion for others. This holiday season, we want to make sure everyone in XYZville has enough food for their families, and we would love for you to be a part of that.



How about this gem: “Take me off your mailing list.” Believe it or not, this demand isn’t a breakup. In fact, this can easily become the call that takes your relationship to the next level.

  • Be Prepared: Know the different communication and giving options that are available in your organization. The answer to this call is not “OK,” but an opportunity to expand the conversation you will need to understand your options.
  • Be Honest: Provide a listening ear. Understand where the request is coming from. If it was due to a mailing error, own up to it. If they’re unhappy about the amount of mail, bring them into the rationale of our mailing schedule. Don’t bore them with too many details, but they can take a look behind the scenes. 
  • Be Forward Thinking: Think through how their concerns can be mitigated and their request can be met without completely removing them from the file.

Here’s what that sounds like:

Thank you for reaching out, Gail! I’m curious why you’re looking to be removed from our mailings?

Donor Response: Too much mail

I’d hate to lose touch — your gifts have done so much good in our community, we can’t thank you enough! Would it be OK if we continued to send you our newsletter quarterly so that you can see the impact you’re making right here in XYZville?

Or, Donor Response: I only give once per year

We certainly appreciate that, Gail! I want you to know that your gifts are truly appreciated — by me and by the families you’re helping feed in XYZville! Would you be OK with moving to a limited communication schedule? I’d love to send you a letter around the end of the year and our 4 newsletters so that you can continue to see the impact you’re making through your partnership.

Or, Donor Response: I hate throwing away so much paper

We certainly understand that, Gail! I hope you know how appreciated your past gifts have been. There are so many people in our community who have access to nutritious food because of your donations — thank you! I also love your care and concern for the environment, and I’d love to find a way to continue this partnership without incorporating so much mail. I would love to add you to our sustainer program if you’re interested. In this program, you can chose the amount and cadence that you’d like to make your gift and I can help you set it up as a recurring payment using your credit card or by direct pay from your checking account. Your ongoing support will continue to help feed people in our community — without any need for reminders through the mail.  


Be prepared. Be honest. Be forward thinking. These 3 tips can help reshape your thinking the next time the phone rings. Remember: Behind every call is a person who very likely has a heart for your mission. They cared enough to call you — take the opportunity!


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