Telephone Fundraising

Fundraising is all about engaging people, about telling a story of fear or hope, tragedy or optimism, whilst at the same time providing a way for the person listening to the story to respond directly and practically.
Of course, the telephone has been used in fundraising ever since it was invented in 1876. As a person-to-person medium using voice, rather than print, it is ideal for the kind of storytelling and relationship-building which is essential for fundraising. But until recently the telephone had only been used on a small scale. All that has changed in the last 20 years as the cost of telecommunications has fallen and as the banking system has made further improvements, particularly in the development of credit cards and Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT). Today, telephone fundraising has become a major element in most fundraising programmes.
The telephone will, under most circumstances, generate much more income than a mailing campaign directed at the same donors. This is because the telephone is a personal, two-way conversation whereas mail is impersonal and one-way.
Some people still think that telephone fundraising will annoy donors, but it’s been shown that as long as the campaign is properly managed, donors are very happy to speak on the phone.
One question that needs addressing is whether to run a telephone fundraising campaign ‘in house’ or turn to an outside agency. Telephone fundraising agencies are set up in many countries, although not all, and provide a professional service – useful if an organisation has no experience or wants to make a large number of telephone contacts.
The questions to consider when making this decision are: the number of calls to be undertaken; professional expertise; practical matters such as data transfer and telephone number matching; and of course cost.
What are the most important things to consider in telephone fundraising?

  • Who is to be called? As with Direct Mail, the selection of data is the single most important success factor. Ideally start with people who have already indicated some support, or who share some features with those people.
  • Are phone numbers available? Numbers should be collected wherever possible – they are invaluable. Mobile phone numbers are just as useful as landlines (perhaps more valuable, since in some countries you can pay money through your mobile phone supplier – see below). In many countries it is possible to match data against the national telephone directory to find telephone numbers for the names and addresses on data lists.
  • Who will make the calls? Will volunteers be used or do you go to an agency which has professional callers? How will the callers be trained, briefed and supervised?
  • What equipment is needed? For small campaigns just a few telephones and paper forms will be sufficient, but for campaigns of tens of thousands of calls you will need specialist computer equipment linked to a database.
  • What will you say? You need to prepare your story in a way which works on the telephone – this is a conversation not literature! And don’t forget to prepare answers to obvious questions.
  • How will they make a gift? Think of what is easy for them and for you but also what will bring in the most money over time. Regular gifts by Electronic Fund Transfer often come out top in this calculation.
  • What about administration? Will donors need to be mailed something before or after the call? How will gifts and the result of calls be recorded? How will you say thanks to the donors?
  • How will you know if you have done well? Targets need setting in advance(by reference to the experience of others, or simply based on cost recovery plus), and simple, clear reports will be needed.

One small story will show you how important telephone fundraising has become, and that it will become even more important.
A few years ago David Dixon[1]who wrote the text that this article is based on, was a speaker at an Action Aid skillshare, whose participants had come from all parts of the world. In his session on telephone fundraising he realised that one of the people asking most questions was from the Sudan and, although he had never visited that country, he was surprised that the facilities were available to make telephone fundraising Telephonepossible. He asked him whether the Sudan has a good telephone network, “no”, he said, “the system is very poor and not many private individuals have a telephone”.
He asked about the banking system, “that is also not very developed, not many people have cheque books or credit cards.” Now he had to ask him, if his country has few telephones and no easy way to pay donations, why he was attending a lecture on telephone fundraising. “Well,” he said, “the mobile phone network is expanding very quickly and many people now have a mobile phone. Also, the phone companies provide a way to transfer money which is more reliable than the banks. We think that using the telephone will enable us to increase our fundraising.”
At that moment he realised that the world is only just at the start of the development of telephone fundraising!
The Phone Room is one of many specialist telephone fundraising agencies based in the UK.