Despite Exemption, Charities Experience Do-Not-Call Fallout
“Is it the end of the line for fundraising by phone?” was what many nonprofit organizations were pondering last year when more than 48 million Americans signed up for the National Do-Not-Call Registry. While the law clearly stipulates that charitable and political calls are exempt, many members of the public still are unaware of the distinction.
A Harris Interactive poll of 1,011 people in August 2003 found that 37 percent thought that the federal do-not-call list also applied to charity calls.
“It certainly has been confusing for people,” says Kimberly Haywood, director of telemarketing for the March of Dimes, a national child welfare organization, who often sits in on fundraising calls. “I could hear it in [the consumer’s] voice: ‘But I thought I was on the national do-not-call list.’”
Haywood also serves as director of Mother’s March, MOD’s first and longest-running fundraising program, which began in 1950 as a local door-to-door campaign to fight polio. One of the critical elements of the program, Haywood says, is telemarketing. MOD conducts two extensive programs annually — on the order of 15 million calls — to solicit help from volunteers to work in their local communities.
“Surprisingly, [our telemarketing program] has fared better than we thought it would,” she says, “but prospects have become a harder ‘yes,’ what with the public misconception and state do-not-call lists looming.”
To deal with the growing number of people questioning the validity of its telemarketing calls, MOD designed a script that addresses the charitable- and political-call exemption. Call-center personnel simply try to clear up the prospective donor’s confusion about the do-not-call rule, Haywood says, and requests by consumers who ask to be added to the organization’s internal do-not-call file are honored.
“Response rates for prior volunteers and donors have not dipped as much as pure prospects, but that could be expected,” she says.
Many other organizations have been reeling from the effects of state do-not-call lists, which allow people to block calls from paid solicitors, including those contracted by charities.
“The state regulators want to overlook a clear mandate by the federal courts that say charitable and political speech is protected speech,” says telemarketing expert Dennis McCarthy, vice president and general manager of relationship marketing firm Epsilon. “The state bans could have an enormously egregious impact on nonprofit fundraising. It goes without saying, there is not going to be a lot of sympathy for telemarketing.”