Don't Forget About the Telephone as a Fundraising Tool
In July of 1979, I had my first article published in CASE Currents titled “Mini-Phonathon: Many Benefits.” The basic premise of the article was that you can use the telephone to inform, as well solicit funds. I worked at Florida International University in Miami and was the first alumni/development director for the university.
We began to hold monthly mini-phonathons to increase the number of alumni association members, promote good will about the university, provide information on university programs, promote campus events, enlist volunteers for activities, use volunteers on an ongoing basis, update alumni information and many other purposes. If that first article was not published, I probably would have given up my writing career.
Through the years, the telephone has been used by many charities with various degrees of success. Organizations like Guidestar have been watching the use of telephones for various nonprofit purposes. Guidestar USA 2017 noted that as early as 2003, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was working to prevent fraud in the nonprofit world. One aspect of this watchdog focus was in telemarketing.
The FTC launched amendments to its Telemarketing Sales Rule to help protect consumers from unscrupulous telemarketers. Charitable solicitors were exempt from specific requirements except for making calls between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., promptly disclosing the name of the organization and noting that the purpose of the call was asking for a charitable donation. Charities had to tell the truth and avoid misleading statements during the call, plus honor all requests for callers to be placed on a “Do Not Call” list.
Many charities still believe that phone calls are a good way to generate dollars. In Gail Perry’s blog post titled “Phone Calls to Donors=Highly Profitable Fundraising,” she believes if a phone call is done correctly donors will be grateful to hear from the fundraiser, and the fundraiser will not be able to get them off the phone. She also believes fundraisers should consider using the telephone as a fundraising tool because:
- It is relatively cheap.
- It supports every other medium and can boost direct mail response.
- It’s scalable, as the numbers can grow over time.
- Anyone can do them such as volunteers, staff or other donors.
Perry notes that calling donors will increase a fundraiser’s current donor base and increase their gifts, obtain additional lapsed donors, improve retention, convert donors to monthly donors and is the perfect way to welcome and say thanks plus generate feedback from donors.
Currently, the telephone itself is changing. Many organizations still use landlines to contact others, but many organizations are also turning to mobile phones to raise funds. In this Socialbrite blog post, the author noted that in the Haiti Earthquake, $41 million dollars was raised from text messages sponsored by the Red Cross.
Specifically, Red Cross received 4.1 million messages, which were valued at $10 each (95 percent were first-time donors).
The Red Cross used the following processes to generate this tremendous response:
- Text-message donations to a specific phone number, and the charity gets a check in the mail.
- Text-to-voice donations to a specific phone number, which generates a process to call back for credit card connections.
- Text message warmers several times a month to reinforce messages and information.
- Mobile website donations.
- App sales at $1.99 per app.
- In-app sales.
- Sponsored apps with assistance from other businesses.
As nonprofit leaders, it is our job to promote our profession with honesty and ethics. If you plan to use the telephone for solicitations, put yourself in the prospect’s or donor’s shoes first. Reverse the process by listening to Charity Navigator’s instructions of “What to Do When a Charity Calls.” Put yourself in the caller/recipient shoes and react accordingly.
If a charity (you) calls someone:
- Find out who’s calling. (Tell them who you are and the organization you represent. Have a script and get to the point and smile.)
- Ask where your donation goes. (Tell the caller what percentage the organization spends on its programs (mission) overall—be proud of that fact.)
- Do your research in advance. (Is this a long-term donor or prospect? What is their average gift size? When do they typically make gifts? Is there any new research on their capacity to make larger gifts?)
- Ask the donors why they give to you. (What is their story for giving to your organization?)
- Seek a personal visit (if the opening presents itself).
- Make sure they feel good about the call (keep it positive and to the point).
- Treat those being called (like you would be treated over the phone).
In summary, the telephone as a fundraising tool can be useful for your organization if you understand its total purpose and role. The telephone is only as good as its callers. If you use the telephone, train your callers and make sure they view the calling process in a very positive way. Understand that you will only connect with a percentage of those being called, and you will receive some negative feedback.
The good news is that you can use this engagement tool to recruit many of your volunteers who will proudly represent your organization. Make sure you have an updated script and someone in charge to handle any problem calls or provide organizational information. Be prepared for future changes in technology that will enhance the communication process and allow nonprofits new ways to connect with individual prospects, donors and organizational friends.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.