'Best Ideas' for Fund Raising by Phone (1,368 words)
If you're going to add the phone to your fund-raising arsenal, when and where does it make sense? "The phone should be in addition to any direct mail you are doing," says Tim Twardowski, executive vice president of InfoCision Management Corp., an Akron, OH, telemarketing agency with more than 150 nonprofit clients including the Salvation Army, and other health, fraternal and political organizations. For fund raisers, he says, "the goal with telemarketing should be to generate incremental income for the organization."
Charles Cadigan, vice president and senior strategist at Epsilon, agrees, explaining, "Some would argue that you should take dollars away from direct mail when you turn to the phone, but that's not wise." The phone is not meant to replace other media such as direct mail, print, TV or radio, he says.
Here are some "best ideas" from these and other experts on how to add telemarketing to the fund-raising media mix.
CALLING AROUND YOUR STRONGEST MAIL EFFORT
Don't call to boost response to a weak or marginal direct mail effort. "Make telemarketing calls around the strongest mailing in your arsenal," asserts Twardowski. Here's how: Within a week of the mailing having been received, the calls begin to go out. Be aware that it may take two or three weeks to complete the calls. This could be done at five- to seven-month intervals.
It makes sense to use the leverage afforded by a multi-media approach, Cadigan adds. "It should look the same, sound the same and the call to action should be the same" as marketing running concurrently in other media, he says. With this in mind, note that the telemarketing campaign cannot be created in a silo. "Make sure your telemarketing reps know what's in the mail and arm them with as much information as possible about whom they are calling," Cadigan explains.
REACTIVATION BY PHONE
Say you have a group of donors who gave several times in the past, or on a regular basis, but have not responded to recent direct mail campaigns. Lapsed donor telemarketing programs are an effective way to re-connect with those donors. You can go as far back in the file as you deem cost effective, Twardowski says, recalling a non-profit he worked with that was able to go back 20 years into a lapsed donor file.
PBS is one non-profit that has reactivation "down to a science," Cadigan says. "They take advantage of on-air drives to call lapsed donors, who oftentimes are watching PBS when the call comes in," he notes.
Most telemarketing for fund raising is only to $10 or $15 donors and higher. But you may be able to call lower-gift amount donors with the intention of upgrading them to the next giving level. Twardowski terms these "move up" programs, and says, for instance, you may ask a $5 to $10 donor for $15 or $20.
Cadigan says he had worked with the USO in a telephone renewals program whereby they looked at past givers with low-gift amounts—in the $5 to $14.99 range—and asked for $25 at a time when we had troops stationed overseas—a fact that helped justify the higher gift request.
This leads us into the whole concept of "needs-based appeals," or fund-raising efforts spurred by news events or crises. Cadigan says the Red Cross is one non-profit group that does this kind of campaign whenever a crisis situation arises that it must respond to.
To make this approach work, Twardowski points out that it's important to thank people for what they've given in support of the organization in the past. For example:
"Thank you for your help last year in feeding people in the Sudan. But the crisis continues and there are still children starving..."
Then, he says, be as specific in the appeal as possible, such as:
"Mrs Jones, I don't have to tell you how cold it's been in Chicago this winter. Today, the wind chill's 10 degrees. At this time, more than ever, homeless people need your help."
(In this instance, Twardowski suggests telemarketers phone the local weather bureaus first to find out the temperatures in the cities they're calling into.)
Prospect with Care
Not every organization can prospect by phone. "It's seen as the telemarketing equivalent of spamming," Cadigan says, noting that you have to know when it's "appropriate to reach for that arrow in the quiver."
Twardowski concurs that tele-prospecting for donors is "the most difficult scenario." For a chance at success, you need to pre-qualify list rentals by using similar lists, he adds.
Taped messages are another means of reaching out to prospective donors that Twardowski has seen fund raisers use successfully. "Using a celebrity's voice, the message talks about the charity and the needs, then asks the person to please hold for a live operator to tell more. Then it switches to a live operator who briefly reiterates and then asks for a donation," he explains.
A similar tele-prospecting tool is to leave a recorded message asking for a call back. If it is constructed professionally, Twardowski says this can bring in fewer, but higher dollar donations.
Here's a case in point: Doctors can be difficult to get a hold of, he says. If you're trying to contact that market, Twardowski suggests, you could leave a message with an 800 number. "When they call back, we can tell through caller ID which program they were called in reference to." The average gifts are higher when they call because the fact that they picked up the phone signals that they are planning to make a donation, he explains. DON'T FORGET INBOUND
Inbound programs are very useful, suggests Max Hart, director of fund raising for Disabled American Veterans, an organization that doesn't use outbound calling for donations. "It's a win-win situation. The donor gets information, and the non-profit builds a relationship," he says.
Cadigan agrees, noting, "It is an access tool for member relationship building. You should have an 800 number 24-seven. Tie it into direct mail pieces so people can ask questions and make donations when they want."
SOLICIT THE SECOND GIFT
One of the most effective ways to begin the process of resoliciting small donors is to instill the habit of giving early on by soliciting the second gift by phone, according to Mal Warwick. This is best done after a thank you note has mailed; however, the call could also thank the donor for the previous gift.
Here's an example from Warwick's book, "You Don't Always Get What You Ask For" of how that scenario worked for one national membership organization.
A target group of nearly 10,000 new members was selected whose first gift had been given three to five months previously. None had given gifts as large as $50; none less than $15. The average was around $17. Over a six-week period, 3,258 were contacted by phone by professional fund raisers. (Phone numbers were unavailable for many, and others simply could not be reached.) Of the contacted group, 43 percent, or 1,387 members, pledged to give again, with the average pledge rate being nearly $26—50 percent more than the average first gift!
More important than the second gifts generated through the pledge drive was the longer-term impact of the calls, Warwick writes. The project manager reported that the 3,258 persons reached by phone were significantly more responsive to future efforts both by mail and phone—whether they pledged or not.
TESTING IS KEY
Another twist on the fund raiser-phone connection is the program set up by DialAmerica through which it sells magazine subscriptions and renewals over the phone and donates a portion—12.5 percent—to a non-profit organization, explains Phil Saulus, vice president of sponsor relations.
Whatever approach you take, Twardowski says that when a program first goes up, "we recommend that the organization comes into town and listens to the calls to be able to see firsthand how it is working. The beauty of this is, we can make changes on the fly if something's not clicking."
And listen carefully to what donors say. It's important to capture information in the database about how they've been contacted and the outcomes. This provides valuable ammunition for future campaigns.