February 24, 2011 | Categories Fundraising Strategies, Nonprofit News, Social Fundraising

Telephone Donation Solicitations, The Right Way or The Wrong Way

Telephone Donation Solicitations

Telephone Donation Solicitation Best Practices

This week I received a call from a breast cancer charity.  The organization was new to me.  And clearly I was an unknown to them as well.

Within the first fifteen seconds, the professional paid solicitor asked if I would make a pledge.  She said that they would follow up with a pledge card so I could send in my donation.  Since I wasn’t prepared to make a commitment without knowing more about the organization, I suggested that they send me the information so I could give it some consideration.

So what happened?  I was informed that they would not send information unless I made a pledge.

That’s right.  To learn more, I would need to give.  I had to conform to their rules or I couldn’t give.  Take that!

Churn and Burn Lists? Or Grow Relationships?

One thing is certain: This paid solicitation firm is highly efficient.  They were “churning and burning,” as the sales people say, or cold calling and pitching within seconds, then politely tossing away any lead that wasn’t an immediate close.

Of course, this is the worst kind of selling.  Why?

  1. It only works with low-level donations, which means you lose most or all of the best long-term donor prospects.
  2. It relies entirely on identification with the cause and not the organization, which means you fail to establish any bond that might result in continued giving to the organization if someone agrees to give.
  3. It is entirely organization-centered, giving little or no concern to the prospective donor and therefore potentially leaving a negative impression. . .if in fact it leaves any impression at all.

What Leads to Effective Telephone Donation Solicitations?

How could this be better and still efficient?  By asking a series of triage questions, noting the responses in the calling software and acting according to those preferences.  These steps would be as important to a museum or a blood bank as to a breast cancer charity and could include the following:

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is this cause to you?
  • Are you familiar with this organization?
  • Do you support other similar organizations? (And, if so, who?)
  • How would you prefer to donate to us?
  • How and when would you like to be contacted by us in the future?

What these questions lack in efficiency they make up for in showing a genuine interest in the prospective contributor, determining interest in the cause and organization, gathering important information for future contacts and establishing preferences for follow up cultivation and solicitation.

The Difference between “No”, “Not Now” and “Not This Way”

For many donors, “no” could easily mean “not now” or “not this way.”  For this organization and their professional phone solicitor, “not now” means “never.”

This is just one more for the growing mountain of stories I hear every day as people grow weary of what is delivered in the mailbox, what passes for charitable solicitation on the phone, what is “blasted” into our increasingly ignored email accounts and what flows through our twitter stream.  They all have one thing in common: They treat prospective donors all as expendable.

Why Do we Give?

They say give because the organization has a need.  But of course that’s not why people give at all.

Why do we give?  We give because it makes OUR lives meaningful.

When a charity calls and says “my way or the highway” they are really saying they couldn’t care less about our feelings.  If they are going to take that tactic, best that they not bother asking at all.

Written by Amanda Foran
One Comment
  1. When I read this post, I found myself reacting on two very different levels. First, as a telephone fundraising pioneer, I continue to be very frustrated at the volume of wretched phone fundraising calls being made on a daily basis. My former business partner and I (we long ago sold our phone fundraising company) fond that adopting a donor-centered orientation allowed us to be far more successful than we otherwise would have been. However, so many others seem not to have figured this out. Out of great frustration over this, Stephen Schatz, my former business partner, even wrote a recent book to instruct folks on the right way to do phone fundraising: "Effective Telephone Fundraising" (Wiley). It is a must read for anyone who wants to learn how to be donor-centered AND effective on the phone. Second, I reacted to the above blog post as a donor. I, too, have been the victim of many organization-focused cultivation and solicitation attempts. I relate one of these recent experiences in my own blog post this week. I don't understand it. It's so obvious that taking a donor-centric approach to fundraising makes more sense, will make everyone concerned feel better, and generate more revenue for the charity. So, why do so many organizations still do just the opposite? Thank you for your efforts to encourage all nonprofits to be donor-centered. I hope the folks who really need to get the message actually take the time to read your post.

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