How I leave voicemail messages that get returned

Generally here’s how I leave messages that get returned:

  1. APPRECIATION: I say ‘thank you’ (and I get sort of ’emotional and gracious’ in my tone…. without going overboard). It’s important to convey emotion so you sound relatable… human! But it must come from your heart. You can’t fake it!
  2. FLATTERY: I say ‘you are awesome’ (or some other statement basically letting them know how amazing they are).
  3. DONOR-CENTRICITY: I focus on them. I recount what they wrote in a survey response or bring up some other pertinent connection point. Relevance and personalization is essential. It shows you really care about them and you did your research. Just make sure you don’t focus on their money in any way whatsoever. Focus on the intersection of their life story and your cause.
  4. INVITATION OFFER: I ask them to talk about themselves or give advice to us. I give them an opportunity to gain value by engaging with me via a return phone call. For instance, I might say, “I wonder if you’d be so kind as to elaborate/provide feedback on that. I’m so curious about…. ___________.” OR, I might say, “It would be great to hear why you care…. more about your mom…..  details about that story you mentioned with Professor so and so…..  _________.” In other words, I ask them to call back so they can give more feedback, tell me more about them, get involved, etc. This invitation IS an offer! People want to engage and tell an organization what they think, how they got involved, or how they feel.
  5. VALUE OFFER: I might instead or additionally offer something with no expectation for them to give at all. In some cases I might offer to deliver some other more tangible value by saying something like this: “I’d really like to send you this video, ebook, report, podcast, etc.” Or, I might say that I have all these things available and I’d love to know which they’d want.
  6. WRAP-UP: I ask them to call me back. I say something like: “I know you must be very busy but I’d love to hear back from you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you for money or anything like that. I just want to” …….(recount what you said above).
  7. DETAILS: I give them two ways to respond. I speak clearly and give them my telephone number (usually my cell number… and I let them know they are important and that’s why I gave them my cell) AND I give them my email address since some people would rather communicate that way.

Bottom line: It’s all about them! I show that I care about them and that calling me back will be good for them, not me. I provide value in line with their consideration stage and their interests. I act like a concierge and partner, not a fundraiser.


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Laura Waller
5 years ago

I often leave the WORST VM messages, and I know it. I’ve been struggling on my own to refine the technique, and this straightforward template will really help. Thanks! It reminds me to always ask: What kind of messages would I like to receive as a donor?
(that goes for everything, not just VM messages . . . )

Tracy Malloy-Curtis
Tracy Malloy-Curtis
5 years ago

Too many fundraisers, when following up on an expression of interest or consideration of a planned gift, follow up on the intention, rather than the donor’s story. Who would you rather talk to: Someone who leaves a message like “Hi! Thanks for letting us know you’re considering a gift in your will. Let me know if you want more information!” or someone who leaves a message that says “Thank you. It means so much to me that you’d take the time to share your story with us. I’d love to hear more.” I know which person I’d call back!

Cheryl Smoot
Cheryl Smoot
5 years ago

This is fabulous! I’m sharing it with all of our Individual & Planned Giving Directors and Executive Directors. Such deceptively simple, yet powerful advice!

Michael J. Rosen
5 years ago

Greg, while fundraisers focus on the big tasks or the obvious challenges, we can easily overlook the importance of mastering the little, basic details that do count. I definitely include myself in that. Thank you for the great tips and for the reminder of the importance of being donor-centered in ALL communications, even a simple voice-mail message.

Heidi Green
5 years ago

My voice messages are often long. They are also personal and real. Just like the messages I would leave my mom.

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