An Unexpected Lesson from the ER


An Unexpected Lesson from the ER

My family had the great good fortune to enjoy a week’s vacation in the north woods of Wisconsin a few weeks back. (And I sincerely hope that you too have had an opportunity for some rejuvenating down-time and/or adventure this summer.) The only hiccup to the week was the early morning fishing trip with my oldest son that ended with a trip to the ER for a quick fish hook removal from my index finger.

Beyond sharing that the fish got the better of me that day, it was the call I received the following week that inspired this post. Yep, that’s right… the hospital called me seven days after my visit to “check-in” and make sure that I was doing well.

Now let me be really clear here, while necessary, my treatment was about as inconsequential as it gets. In my opinion, there was certainly no need for anyone to reach out afterwards. Nevertheless, it was a priority for them. And they didn’t just call once. In the message they left on the first call, they said they would try again in the next day or two. They provided a callback number, but made it clear that they wanted to make sure everything was okay and said they would try again. Sure enough, the next afternoon they called, as promised and I had the chance to assure them that I was indeed, just fine.

Honestly, I was taken aback by the care and attention I received and their outreach absolutely enhanced my already positive experience with the hospital.

So, what does a call from the ER have to do with fundraising?


Their efforts made it clear that I mattered. Even though I live 400 miles away and will likely never set foot in their facility again, their example of customer (read: donor) care was sincere and impactful. Even though I’m certain that every visitor to their ER gets a call, their efforts created a connection and a sense of relationship.

We all know that past giving is the greatest predictor of future giving. We know that focusing on donor retention is a much more effective strategy than acquisition and we know all about the value of our current donors’ lifetime giving potential. These are just three of the reasons why paying attention to the people who support our mission is always a priority.

We also know that our donors have other philanthropic interests and, if we are not talking to them, we can be assured that someone else is.

Unfortunately, grant deadlines, event planning and the other time-sensitive elements of our daily grind too often prevent us from following through on our donor outreach strategies. Too often our plans for calling and visiting with our donors get pushed aside and find a resting place in our pile of good intentions.

Fortunately, if we can avoid or reverse that trend, we will quickly begin to build more meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with our donors and, subsequently, also improve our retention rates. By making an effort to invest in them, we can learn their story. We can discover what motivates their giving and, if our mission truly aligns with their philanthropic goals, we can nurture a relationship that will move them from making donations to making investments in our work.

While you likely already have a donor outreach plan in place, just in case, here’s a very simple strategy for you to jump start your efforts and to help you change your habits:

  • Commit to making two donor calls every day. (That’s 10 calls each week)
  • Commit to having two face-to-face donor meetings each week. (That’s 8 – 10 visits a month)

Start there. All in, that’s probably a four-five hour commitment each week. If you are already executing at or above this level, congratulations, that’s great! Now challenge yourself to increase your weekly efforts by 10% or work on further engaging your Board members in the effort.

Regardless of what you specifically commit to, please do it. You can start with major donors, first-time givers, donors who have given for 3/5/10 straight years… whatever works for you.

We know that our individual donors are everything when it comes to building sustainable funding to advance our mission. Give yourself and your organization the opportunity to focus your time and attention on connecting with your donors. I promise that you’ll quickly see the fruits of your efforts and, in the end, they’ll thank you for it!

If you have a great donor outreach story or a strategy that works really well for you, we’d love to hear about it. Send them along and we’ll share your experiences in a later post.

Thank you, as always, for the amazing work that you do! 

David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


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