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Telephone Fundraising: Getting the Right Tone

  • For those of you who are involved with small charities and groups the idea of running a telephone fundraising campaign probably seems beyond your capabilities but as long as you have a phone, a list of previous donors and some perseverance it can be a great way to directly engage with your audience.

    For example as part of the Bath City FC Supporters Society "Back the Bid" scheme to buy the club on behalf of the community I set up a makeshift call centre in our Treasurer’s hallway one Friday afternoon in 2015. I had a spreadsheet of all the Society's members, a battered landline phone, and a stool to sit on. I called each member in turn asking if they had heard of the bid, whether they were going to support it and if they had any questions. Many people told me it was the first time they had ever had a phone call from Bath City FC and the response was fantastic with a number saying that this had been a great reminder and they were going to purchase shares immediately. For those that weren't able to support it was still worth taking the time to correct basic details like email address and update them on the latest "Back the Bid" news. 

    In September 2016 we had to reconfirm the pledges made in 2015 so that we could relaunch our ultimately successful bid to become a majority shareholder. Four volunteers called over 100 people during the course of 3 hours and we confirmed pledges worth £10,000 in that time.

    Smaller charities and groups have a great opportunity to build a personal connection with their supporters as the volumes are typically much smaller, they will often know many of the people in person and they have all believed in your cause at some point in the past. Some of the larger charities have lost this personal connection due to their size, outsourcing of operations and the sheer complexity of their business processes. This presents a great opportunity for smaller charities and groups to demonstrate their agility and reach out to people directly.

    I would recommend you start any call with a simple thank you for previous support, provide an update on any new appeals that you might be running and finish with a pointer to where they can donate online. Do not take card details over the phone, just refer them to your Localgiving page, if you have one. Remember that taking time over each call and really listening might make all the difference to a supporter who receives frequent, more impersonal requests from larger organisations.

    Follow the legislation and make personal connections

    Last year, just as I'd started my previous role as Telephone Fundraising Manager for the University of Bristol, the tragic events of the Olive Cooke story were all over the newspapers and many Universities decided not to run their telephone campaigns that academic year. Unfortunately a handful of unscrupulous telemarketing agencies had given the wider telephone fundraising sector a bad name so make sure you follow the new legislation which was issued in response to those complaints. This includes handling each call sensitively, never asking for a donation more than 3 times, use a telephone number which can be identified by the recipient and end the call immediately if requested. Provided you follow the legislation then there is no need to shy away from a channel that allows you to make a personal connection with your donors, is essentially free (other than call charges and your time) and requires significantly less administration than say putting on a fundraising event. 

    Finally, it is crucial to check that you have permission to call your supporters in future so make sure you explicitly ask for permission to make fundraising calls at some point in the conversation and then record this consent in your spreadsheet, list or database. As a general rule I would avoid calling anyone over 80, anyone who appears to be confused or vulnerable and I would never makes calls after 8pm because many people find this intrusive. Provided you follow these guidelines and the legislation mentioned above then you should find that a telephone call can be a great opportunity to really connect with your most loyal supporters.

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    Photographer: Karolina Grabowska.