The optimal time to do your Thank-A-Thon is the week before – you guessed it –Thanksgiving. You should consider this week to be the official kickoff of your entire year-end drive, although, as you’ll see in a moment, your preparation begins long before the end of November.
Thank-A-Thon participants typically love the calling work because there’s no “ask” involved; it’s just a call with an emotionally pleasing purpose. Usually, a group of board members, staff members, and volunteers will come together, armed with lists (which have been prepared in advance) of whom to call and what to say. A typical call to Joe or Jane Donor might go: “Hello Jane, I’m a board member, volunteer, or staff member with Compassionate Food Pantry and I’m just calling to say ‘thank you’ for your involvement, for your membership, and for your donations.” If you happen to know something about the person — perhaps they just introduced your organization to the local rotary club or they just got extra food for the pantry — then you would say, “I’m aware that you recently did this and we really appreciate it and want you to know the board realizes it, the staff realizes it, and the volunteers realize it as well.”
That’s it. If you don’t get the person but get their voicemail instead, you can leave the same thank-you message and possibly let them know that if they need anything more from the organization they can call your main number and/or visit your website. Both the live conversation and the message are very effective, though if you get the person on the phone you’ll also be able to experience the pure sense of gratitude and appreciation your donors so often feel from calls like these. Countless are the times one of my staff or I have heard a donor say, “Oh my, you’re the only organization that’s ever called me to say thank you. What a nice thing to do!” It’s a genuine act of esteem and you should see it that way too. Don’t think of it as a contrivance because it’s really not. It’s just calling people to say “thank you.”
Before the first call, I recommend you tell all your participants to relax and have fun, and in order for them to do so more easily you should prepare a FAQ sheet for them to consult if the need arises. This way, if they’re asked “How’s that campaign going?” or “Are there any volunteer opportunities?” or “What’s the annual budget this year?” they’ll have good answers at the ready. There is never a bad time to show off your preparation and professionalism, and a thank-you call is no exception. If you have an exciting (free) event on the horizon, it’s okay to mention that as well.
As for a day and time for your Thank-A-Thon, I recommend asking staff and volunteer leadership to participate either on a weekend afternoon or a weekday early evening. Three hours is usually the right amount of time for the event, and you can give each caller 15-20 donors to call. Before they begin, have everyone spend 10 minutes practicing calls and “role-playing” (i.e., taking turns pretending to be the donor). Normally I’ll ask people to bring their cellphones and I’ll order a few pizzas. While I realize it’s only pizza, I’m always pleased to see what a real morale booster it becomes among the callers, and how it adds to the collegial feeling in the room.