If asked you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to admit to liking telemarketing even when the call you pick up is on behalf of a favorite charity. Even those of us who do telephone fundraising rarely admit what we do in public. In front of the mirror in our bathrooms, we cite statistics about the value of using the telephone to renew support from contributors whose support has lapsed. We remind ourselves that donors who say no to a telephone solicitation are more than 50% more likely to respond positively to the next direct mail letter they receive. We bolster ourselves and stand a little straighter with the knowledge that the telephone is the single most effective way to build a successful monthly giving program and we might even quietly pride ourselves on the fact that we’ve used the phone to identify numerous million dollar bequests and been able to engage in conversations that resulted in a significant number of five and six figure charitable gifts. Yes, I did say six figure donations secured exclusively over the phone.
Perhaps even more than you, we get angry thinking about those telephone fundraising companies giving the reputable ones a bad name with their shoddy, aggressive calls made by poorly trained, poorly paid callers who don’t know how to dialogue with contributors, who only read a script that concludes with three rote asks for money. We know, perhaps better than most, that when the phone is used badly it can be terribly destructive to an organization’s relationship with its donors, alienating supporters and undermining all the hard work an organization might do to engage contributors in the importance of their mission.
However, certainly what keeps me in this business, despite all the muffled contempt, is the knowledge that when used well…. when time is taken on the phone to actually talk with contributors, and not just at them…. that the phone can be the single most powerful tool an organization has to reach tens of thousands of its supporters and actually engage them in a positive interactive and educational conversation about the importance of its work. After all, the unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of your supporters aren’t actually reading your direct mail.
The fact is that the phone, when used well, is the only current way a non-profit organization can develop a truly human connection with thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of its supporters. When used interactively it transcends anything possible through direct mail, e-mail, text messaging, advertising or press releases, which are in essence one-sided dialogues. You might be surprised to learn that I receive positive feedback from donors all the time who are shocked to find themselves in dynamic and informative conversations with intelligent and deeply committed telemarketers. It may actually be your telemarketer who holds the key to what your supporters and contributors are really thinking and feeling about your organization’s mission and efforts. Where a focus group gathers the opinions and attitudes of two dozen supporters, your telemarketer offers access to the opinions and attitudes of thousands.
So as I look at myself in that mirror reflecting on how I got myself into this profession, I find myself repeatedly wondering why administrators, executive directors, board members and organizational fundraising professionals aren’t turning to their professional telefundraisers for input on their marketing program overall? Why do they so rarely seek the advice of the people who know the most about their donors?
As telefundraising is often the second largest expense line in an organizations direct marketing fundraising budget behind direct mail, I for one believe it might be worth holding your nose, putting your hatred of the medium aside and welcoming your telemarketers out from in front of their bathroom mirrors so you can ask us what we are hearing on the phones and how to ensure that calls on behalf of your non-profit are empowering for donors and not alienating.