Telephone fundraising can be difficult to get right, but by ensuring your fundraisers are well trained in both the art of conversation and the rules and regulations, it can be a very effective method of raising money for your charity, says Tony Charalambides
Telephone fundraisers raise millions of pounds each year for good causes. It remains one of the most effective tools available to charities for raising money and is one of the only channels that allows fundraisers to have a direct, two-way conversation with supporters.
However, not everyone gets telephone fundraising right. Standards of compliance among both in-house and agency telephone fundraising teams are high, and the rules governing the practice taken very seriously. Nevertheless, one complaint about telephone fundraising is one too many – and all fundraisers should do what they can to make sure that people continue to have faith in this method of raising vital funds.
So how can telephone fundraisers get it right and make sure that they are fundraising within the rules, while maintaining their effectiveness? The answer lies in good training and making sure that fundraisers know the rules, are well briefed and feel confident that they can deal with the challenging scenarios that inevitably arise – all before they are put anywhere near a phone.
Know the rules
Nobody likes talking about rules, but at the risk of sounding like a ‘stick in the mud’ the rules are there for our own good, and they must be learnt by all fundraisers at the outset. Telephone fundraising is in fact one of the most heavily regulated areas of fundraising, particularly with the involvement of Ofcom – a well-established and powerful regulator whose remit includes telemarketing. Additional fundraising-specific rules governing the practice are set by industry bodies such as the Institute of Fundraising (IOF); others are statutory. Fortunately, these are often simple and easy-to-follow – such as making sure that fundraisers give their full name on every call for accountability, asking the person that they are calling for permission to continue the conversation after they have introduced themselves, and ensuring that people are told if their calls are recorded.
Transparency should be a guiding principle for all fundraisers. The Charity Commission is clear on this point, stating that “the Charities Act requires fundraisers who are paid, including charity staff and trustees who are paid, to declare their status by making a solicitation statement”. These statements usually include information about which charity or charities they are fundraising for and, if they are fundraising for more than one charity, the proportions received by each.
So far, so clear. There are, however, grey areas that require careful reflection, good judgement and, perhaps, a generous measure of caution if they are to be successfully negotiated.
One of the murkier areas that telephone fundraisers – both raw recruit and seasoned veteran – will have to deal with are the circumstances in which they can make calls to supporters who have asked not to be contacted. Telephone fundraising, as a form of direct marketing, is covered by the regulations governing the use of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) – which allows individuals or companies to register their telephone numbers to indicate that they do not wish to receive unsolicited telephone calls. It is essential to check numbers against the TPS register when intending to cold call anyone who has not been called before – unless they have indicated somewhere that they are prepared to be contacted (for example by ticking an ‘opt in’ box on a charity petition or website).
However, calling existing supporters who have registered with the TPS is something of a grey area (and that’s putting it mildly). The IOF’s Code of Fundraising Practice says that in some cases it may be acceptable to call someone who has registered with the TPS where organisations judge that “their relationship with a donor is such that they do not need to seek further consent to receiving calls”. There is no one-size-fits-all rule here – and one can only say that calling someone who fits the description above is very much a judgement call for any charity. A cautious approach is recommended. If in doubt, don’t call.
After the rules have been carefully, patiently, explained to the caller, what next? The training session shouldn’t be the end of the discussion of the rules – however much those who have sat through the session may hope it does! Regular reminders – whether these take the form of verbal briefings or core messages being displayed around your office – should be provided on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance. Another option is to require fundraisers to sign a compliance document outlining their responsibility to follow the right guidelines and rules, and the potential consequences for failing to do so.
Telephone fundraising is a fast-moving scene and administration isn’t always the first thing on fundraisers’ minds. There’s a call to successfully conclude, a difficult question posed by a supporter to answer, or a lunch break to take. But the fact remains that keeping good, up-to-date records is incredibly important. The reasons for this should be obvious. How can follow-up actions be tailored properly and initiated quickly if a call hasn’t been correctly classified?
Accurate record keeping and call classification is just as important when the desired outcome has not been achieved. Calling someone who has previously told one of your fundraisers that they do not wish to be called will not be appreciated!
It sometimes seems that barely a week goes by without some horror story, thankfully usually quite unconnected with fundraising, about compromised data seeping out because someone, somewhere, has made a simple mistake. Whatever the story, the result is always the same – public confidence suffers if people do not believe that their data is being kept safe or used properly. All fundraisers must be made to understand the importance of data protection, and must know that data security is the responsibility of whoever is making fundraising calls – whether a fundraising agency or a charity. Data protection should be built into the systems before fundraisers are allowed on the phones, so that there is no opportunity for data protection law to be compromised.
The art of conversation
Knowing and following the rules governing telephone fundraising is important, but it’s not enough. Make sure that fundraisers don’t lose sight of the skills and qualities that are the distinguishing features of good conversations (although the approach and character of these may vary from organisation to organisation). The best conversations are not a tick-box exercise in running through a list of fundraising ‘asks’, but instead involve a genuine two-way dialogue between the fundraiser and the supporter about the charity and the benefits of making a donation. Having an open script for fundraisers to follow will allow them to build rapport and give supporters the opportunity to ask plenty of questions – a conversational approach that can be far more effective than simply reading a script to a silent supporter at the other end of a phone.
Know the work
Remember that no amount of by-the-book training will work if fundraisers are not also given plenty of opportunity to know everything that they need to about the causes that they represent. Only by being fully up-to-speed with the work of the charities or other organisations that they are calling on behalf of, rehearsing their messaging and anticipating challenging questions will fundraisers be able to inspire confidence and achieve results.
If not already in place, consider introducing regular refresher briefings for fundraisers that cover all areas of an organisation’s work and give the very latest figures on any fundraising campaigns already underway. Monitoring the news agenda will help trainers and fundraisers anticipate questions or challenges that could crop up – whether this is a difficult question about a controversial area of the charity’s work, or a more benign query about publicly available information, such as administration costs. Wherever possible, daily updates should be passed on to fundraisers so they are fully up-to-date – which also has the advantage of increasing fundraisers’ engagement with the cause for which they are raising money.
Well-trained fundraisers who follow the rules and who know how to have engaging, knowledgeable conversations are the ones who will keep supporters happy and deliver those all-important results for the causes, organisations and appeals that need them most. Making sure that fundraisers learn about and know the rules may be time consuming, but it is absolutely vital if the public is to continue to have faith in this extraordinarily effective method of raising vital money. However, it is not purely about learning rules. Effective training programmes should aim to create fundraisers who are sensitive, adaptable, engaged and able to inspire those on the other end of the phone to give to good causes.
Top tips for telephone talk
1. Know the rules.
Make sure that fundraisers are clear on who can be called and under what circumstances – taking particular care if a supporter has registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Schedule regular refresher sessions to remind staff of the guidelines and the consequences of non-compliance.
2. Keep accurate records.
Ensure that calls are correctly classified and followed-up. Write to people who have agreed to give their support promptly, and ensure that any requests not to be called again are noted and actioned.
3. Protect data.
Have secure systems and processes in place to ensure that data protection law is adhered to at all times.
4. Be authentic. Encourage fundraisers to have a genuine conversation with supporters, rather than simply tick off asks. Allow the conversation to be led by the supporter, and leave them room on a call to ask plenty of questions.
5. Enlighten your staff.
Make sure that fundraisers are fully up-to-speed with the key information that they need to know about a charity, campaign or appeal. Regularly review the flow of information and have frequent briefings so that fundraisers can speak with authority and deal with challenging questions.