Down the Up Staircase

Modernizing Fundraising / How Fundraising Works versus How it Should Work, Telemarketing / Call Center Fundraising • Views: 13978

I’ve been contemplating an interesting giving experience.

Several months ago, I made a first-time donation to an organization whose work I have long admired. I knew a bit about their fundraising history and was aware that the value of the gift I made ($500) was well above the average for first-time, online gifts to this particular not-for-profit.  I received a prompt and thoughtful thank you letter (very donor-centered). Not long afterwards, I got a progress report from the CEO which was brief, but very informative (also delightfully donor-centered). Again I was impressed and very happy that I had supported this cause.

About a month later, someone from the organization called me and because of their excellent stewardship to date, I was pleased to speak with their representative. I soon realized I was talking to a telemarketer, likely from an external call center, though I wasn’t entirely sure. She wanted to know if I would join the not-for-profit’s monthly giving program, and suggested that I contribute $15 a month. I paused to multiply $15 times 12 in my head, but the caller took my pause as hesitation and quickly downgraded the ask….”or $10 a month — anything you could do would be very helpful.”

“I recently gave you $500,” I replied. “Why would you downgrade the ask to $120?”  Now it was her turn to pause as she clicked through her list of typical objections, trying in vain to find this one. She didn’t understand what I meant so filled the void with some general information about the charity which, of course, I already knew.  The next time she paused, I just said “No, thanks”.

Three weeks later, I got something in the mail from this same organization. It was a direct marketing ask that suggested I contribute $50, $100, $200, or “other”. I decided to contribute “other” – $0.

In the fundraising industry we perilously assume that any solicitation will do rather than recognizing the importance of how the solicitation itself needs to grow the relationship from gift to gift.  As a result we are turning good numbers like $500 into bad numbers like $0 because we pay more attention to “textbook” solicitation strategies that emphasize volume over responsiveness.  Solicitations are designed to raise money; too often they cost us money.  Too often, they lead donors down the up staircase.

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17 Responses to Down the Up Staircase

  1. ANN says:

    As a short measure to raise funds for my charity .I sent emails to my friends asking them to donate one dollar each.As you may have already guessed. Not one responded but ?
    I got a lot of junk mail from them proving they totally ignored my mail.

  2. Wendy says:

    I think this perfectly illustrates that the right person has to make the right ask for the right amount. Here are a few of the barriers (and, IMHO, the reason for much of the burnout in our field) that would prevent that from happening: not enough front-line fundraisers (in my case, I’m the only one and the administrator), inflexible technology that requires a Ph.D. in computers to truly “drill down”, lack of control over calling scripts/training, compartmentalization in departments that divorces front-line fundraisers who know their donors from the “grassroots” efforts, and the number one reason for these kinds of mistakes–turnover in staff that causes loss of relationship information, illogical changes in fundraising strategies–in short, no continuity in efforts and relationships over time.

    Good issue. Interesting thoughts.

    As always, an opportunity to think and reflect.

  3. John says:

    why blame the telemarketer? they were just the tool – it was the charity’s decision to make the call (and send the subsequent letter) both of which had the wrong message for Penelope.

    The responsibility lies with the charity’s professional staff who are the caretakers of relationship with the donor and it is their message the the telemarketer or the direct mail firm send. People are happy to receive calls/letters they WANT. It wasn’t the call Penny objected to – it was the message.

  4. Jim Heckman says:

    I echo the comments of those who’ve had similar experiences. The majority of calls I’ve gotten in recent months from organizations I’ve supported for an extended period have made me an ex-donor. As a view of the fundraising profession in this country, it is disturbing and discouraging.

  5. Suzanne says:

    I’m glad I do not use telemarketers for this very reason. Penelope, perhaps you have shared both your professional advice and donor-related reactions with this organization? They could learn from it and just maybe get you back as a donor and/or at least prevent losing other contributors for this reason?

  6. Barb says:

    On the flip side, I have given donations as gifts for family members but don’t want to be on the list and also hate receiving the continual flow of solicitation.

  7. Tara Sudbury says:

    Well Penelope in this experience you certainly captured what is the essence of the missing piece of this donor – centered NFP you favored. You did not FEEL valued. We can discuss all the mechanics and merits of telemarketing but the real issue is that the actions of your favored cause made you feel undervalued or “just a number”. It makes me wonder if there are practitioners reading your excellent books, and not stopping to actually think the application of your ideas through. Up until the telemarketing call you did feel valued, but I bet you doubt the sincerity of those previous actions – an average reaction we would all have – but once a donor does not feel valued….its a deal breaker! As you point out in one of your books, I think its Thank You – we cannot afford to forget “the feeling a donor has when he/she writes the cheque”. Donors might give when asked but if they don’t feel valued throughout the relationship with the NFP we have failed to stay donor centered – and no one gives without some smidgen of wanting to feel valued.


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