A shocking concept!

You know what I hate? When every other Friday comes along (that’s when I post on here) and I have no clue what I’m going to write.

You know what I love? When every other Friday comes along and I have one awesome post ready to go, and then something happens and I schedule that post for later and write another even more awesome post. That’s what happened this week, and I hope this energizes you like it energizes me.

This week I got to have a beer with John Lepp. John Lepp is awesome! John is a Partner at Agents of Good. Please check out his Twitter and the company’s website. The work they do is so inspiring!

Last week I had a coffee with Paul Nazareth. I think you already know how awesome I think Paul is. Anyway, when I met with Paul, he mentioned John, and I said, “Funnily enough I have a beer scheduled with John next week!” Paul was delighted to hear it, and referred to John as a “disruptive leader”. That made me even more excited for some one-on-one time with John.

So John and I met at a half-way point between where we both live, and we started talking shop, of course. John’s expertise is in direct mail, so we talked a lot about that. He shared the truth, which is that every single organization is doing the same thing. We talked about that for a while, and then I commented that somehow I didn’t find that discouraging, but the opposite – encouraging. John agreed and said it was exciting! It means it’s not hard to surprise people with something different.

So I said, “John, what can we do? If you could distill your knowledge and insight down to a few actions, what are they?” John replied with a number of things, but one of them stood out the most for me. Hold onto your seats, because this is going to come as a bit of a shock:

Call your donors.

Get on the phone, call them, and see how they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be an ask, it’s not even really a thank you call – though we should take every opportunity to say thank you, I think – it’s just a personal, meaningful check-in.

When I worked at the Annual Giving Call Centre, even the longest calls barely took five minutes. John gave me a soft challenge of spending one hour a week calling donors.

Here’s the thing, and this is a shameful secret of mine: I hate making phone callsThis is a personal and professional challenge. I’m great at communicating via email, I feel confident and comfortable in person, but the thought of getting on the phone is just… I don’t like it.

One of my mentors – not John or Paul, though they’re both now on my personal Board of Directors (great blog post about that concept from Paul here) – reminded me recently that the way to get comfortable with something is to do it repeatedly.

So here’s my personal challenge, and please take the challenge yourself, too, if you need to: Call donors. For one hour a week. I find making my challenges public always gives me the extra drive to achieve them, so I will. I can’t wait to share the results!


Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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3 thoughts on “A shocking concept!

  1. Thank you Maeve, the best meetings are those where both parities are enlightened and energized – and i know i certainly was as well! thanks for you words and I’m quite pleased that something stuck. Let me know how the experiment goes!

  2. I told you he was disruptive.

    John understands how charity teams work because he has worked with so many. But from his perch high atop charityland on Mount
    Waterdown he has perspective. He knows innovation isn’t recreating the strategy it’s doing what works when everyone else is systematically zombie-ing from one project deadline to the next.

    Good luck with the calls, a good reminder for us all! Happy to join your board.


  3. Maeve, great post and perspective!

    I agree John & Paul are incredible. Both are disruptors and hold you to excellent standards, no excuses. That’s why they’re great choices for your Board.

    As for phone calls as a relationship building mechanism, so true! Doing what others don’t do and doing what no one expects is a surefire way to be remembered positively.

    Some accuse the phone of being intrusive, but to me that depends on context and timing. People are just used to, and tired of, bad calls from fundraisers, so there is an opportunity if you can interrupt the pattern. If you are calling donors that say no contact via phone (or at all), then that’s disrespectful. If you’re calling to ask for a gift and they haven’t heard from you since their last gift… *giant buzzer goes off*.

    However, calling to check in and share exciting news or follow up on events in their lives that they have shared with you – it’s meaningful and fun too. Do it with good intentions and genuine spirit, and you build positive affinity. I’ve made thousands of thank you calls, many of which turn into great conversations – and you realize how much you love what you do!

    I encourage everyone to take Maeve’s challenge – the gauntlet is dropped! You won’t be sorry.


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