Telephone Fundraising: Next Best Thing to Building Stronger Donor Relationships?

Back in 1964, Bell Telephone System (known as “Ma Bell” to many) used an advertising slogan, “The next best thing to being together.” These days, the telephone’s role in our lives has changed. We no longer have the heavy, rotary dial phone sitting in a spot of honor in our home; instead, our phones are with us all the time—going far beyond connecting two people to do things that Ma Bell never imagined back in the ‘60s.

While writing the fourth edition of Stanley Weinstein’s seminal book, “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management,” few chapters from the third edition were updated as much as the chapter on telemarketing. For many nonprofit organizations, the telephone has been mainly replaced by email, texting or other communication means that were not even making an impression a decade ago.

So I was intrigued when I spoke recently to Tom Hooper of Nimble Connect, an organization built around the telephone as a fundraising and relationship-building tool. In this day and age of clicking and following (electronically) to indicate whether or not we have a relationship (however you define that term), I was intrigued to hear that the telephone is making a comeback when it comes to strengthening a donor’s connection to an organization.

Hooper updated me on how telemarketing has changed since the days of large rooms filled with callers and spreadsheets covered with lists of names and numbers. While those large firms still provide services for large-scale telemarketing campaigns, cloud-based calling platforms from companies, like Nimble Connect, make it possible and affordable to include the telephone in an organization’s fundraising strategy. These internet solutions allow callers to log in and be assigned calls without having to go to a central location or waiting for delivery of a data file.

Nimble Connect works with an organization’s volunteers, providing training, coaching, motivation and feedback, so volunteers can call and thank donors without having to leave their home. And because these volunteers are enthusiastic about helping the organization fulfill its mission, they become powerful tools for relationship building.

“We focus on calling within a week of the donation being received simply to say ‘thank you’ to the donor,” Hooper told me. “Just like timely receipting is a powerful relationship-building tool, so is a timely call. We want the donor to be personally thanked while the experience of giving is still fresh in his/her mind because this can quickly position the nonprofit as a favorite in the donor’s mind.”

Additionally, these prompt calls provide an opportunity for an even deeper connection with the donor when they share needs or ask questions about the organization.

“We train the organization’s volunteers to listen and focus on the donor,” Hooper explained. “The end result is that donors feel like a valued partners. We’re turning transactions into friendships.”

What can your organization learn from Nimble Connect’s experience?

First and foremost, don’t neglect the telephone as a fundraising tool. Your mail, emails and social media posts may be lost in the abundance of other communication a donor has received, but phone calls may break through the clutter and allow you to connect in a way that you never could through a one-way conversation that other previously mentioned options provide.

Secondly, take saying “thank you” seriously. Never treat it as something that can be skipped to save money because “of course our donors know we’re thankful.” Nimble Connect’s model results in excellent net income per call because of additional revenues the donors give in response to calls that never ask them to give. You may go back to a restaurant, coffee shop or store over and over because they make you feel good about spending money there. Your donors are no different. They have many choices for doing good, so the organization that makes them feel good about doing good is likely to earn repeat business.

Thirdly, equip your volunteers to have a powerful impact. You may be thinking, “How hard is it to pick up the phone, dial and say ‘thank you’ each week?” But Nimble Connect has found that making sure volunteers are prepared for a wide variety of situations and are motivated to call results in completed calls and pleasantly surprised donors. Also, let your volunteers know what the overall program accomplishes. If you find that donors who receive a thank you call are more likely to give again, that’s going to make your volunteers even more motivated to pick up the phone and make a call.

Next, look for a way to add value for your donors. Your organization may offer some updated news on the program the donor supported or inside information on results. Sharing a short story can leave the donor feeling good about giving. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to how you add value, and it may evolve as you start calling based on what resonates with your donors. But making the call stand out by something that goes beyond a scripted “thank you” can lead to more engaged donors who know they are actually valued.

Finally, don’t forsake one fundraising method for another without first asking if there is a new way to make that method more effective in today’s marketplace. I love the way copywriter Will Turner put this: “Remember, there are no good or bad—or right or wrong—fundraising techniques. There are only those that work in a given circumstance and those that don’t. So definitely test new trends, strategies and ideas, but remember that old standbys didn’t get to be old standbys by accident. They’ve stood the test of time.”

So this old dog challenges you to think about that old fundraising standby, the telephone, in a new way. Just maybe there’s a stronger donor relationship that will result from a telephone call and a genuine word of appreciation.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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