If used correctly, the telephone is every fundraiser’s greatest tool, says Gordon Michie.
We all know that communication is at the very heart of every relationship. And that second only to a face-to-face meeting with a loved one is the ability to have a conversation and to hear each other’s voice.
Used correctly, the telephone can and will deliver that dream of a lifelong relationship. The telephone will be the window into your organisation and the window into your donor’s rationale for supporting you.
There are several preparatory steps that should be taken by any organisation investing in telephone fundraising, and decisions need to be made on how to use this important asset.
1. Collect the right data
The foundation stone of a successful campaign is the quality of the data that is supplied and the knowledge that surrounds that data. Before you start making your calls, therefore, you should at the most basic level make sure you have the right telephone number for the donor, and their full giving history – including how much has been given, and when was the last time he or she gave. You should also ensure that you have the means to export and import the data seamlessly into your database.
2. Build your conversation
If you want to work towards lifetime value and build a mutually beneficial relationship between donor and cause, you need to achieve rapport. Rapport is the quality of harmony, recognition and mutual acceptance that exists between people when they are at ease with one another and where communication is occurring easily.
Among the many ways of creating rapport, the most effective involve subtly matching non-verbal communication – especially voice patterns. If you can show a genuine interest in the other person and in their world in such a way as to also meet the aspirations of your cause, rapport will become second nature – see the box-out below for a few key tips on how can you easily build rapport over the phone.
3. Inspire your telephone fundraisers
As fundraisers it is important that we can communicate the message of our beneficiaries, but in the main, this will be second hand. So how can you help make the connection between your callers and your donors? Can you visit your telephone fundraisers and give them a pep talk or, even better, ask a beneficiary (for example a field worker, a parent or a patient) to come in and relay his or her story first hand? If you can, it can make all the difference to the agency’s ability to build rapport: “Can I tell you about Hilary, who I met last week...?”
4. Test and test again
Testing should never be forgotten. As the world constantly evolves so do the needs of our supporters and with the telephone we can easily and quickly identify and test different forms of messages from the organisation to the donor. Testing will allow you to improve results in the immediate and longer term. It will improve donor value, donor retention and a donor’s lifetime with your organisation, and ultimately by testing you will enhance your mutual relationship.
These tests can be very simple – you could, for example, try adding a case study to the conversation, or talking about a localised issue. But always remember: when testing, only change one thing at a time, so you can identify what made the difference.
5. Avoid automated systems
My final point on the use of the telephone is for all those organisations that use the phone as an automated receptionist. Automated systems cannot build rapport; they cannot answer the questions of the donor who wants to leave his or her house to you. They cannot point the new patient to the person most suitable to help them in their time of need. They cannot say thank you and welcome and be that friendly window into your organisation. That demands a sensitive, rapport-based, warm and committed human, every time.
Gordon Michie is a director of Dunfermline-based international donor acquisition and development specialists R Fundraising Limited.
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 29, May 2013