I was talking on Twitter last night with Paul De Gregorio who’s put up a good blog on scripting for the telephone, and so I thought I’d share some excerpts of a booklet I wrote a couple of years ago for Howard Lake and UK Fundraising.
You can get the whole booklet, in which I talk about all the aspects of running telephone fundraising campaigns, at the UK fundraising shop (I’m donating my proceeds from it to the University of Leeds).
So here’s my take on writing (or indeed, not writing) telephone scripts.
Rule No. 1 of telephone scripts – never bore people! Remember that for most people you call, you are in the role of the uninvited guest. The onus is on you to earn people’s hospitality through your courtesy, and by having something interesting to say.
You can bore people by how you say things, just as much as what you say. Telephone scripts are not fixed and your style should be appropriately conversational – do not use the language of a policy document! Edit out technical terms, all instances of the passive voice, any terms you use internally that potential donors may not understand – or appreciate. Make sure you tell stories – ideally about named people.
Two way dialogue
Scripts are nothing more than a blueprint for a conversation. You should be aiming for conversations where your callers are talking for 40% of the time and your supporters are engaging with them for the other 60%. So include open-ended questions to help this happen.
The 15 second rule
You have about 15 seconds on the phone before getting interrupted, so make sure you stick to one or two sentences per key message in your script.
Aim for authenticity
The authentic voice of your organisation must come through over the phone. That voice will be the individual caller who’s calling that individual prospective donor. So give your callers enough information to be authoritative, without swamping them with facts. And make sure they can understand and articulate your cause’s mission and core values in a few well-chosen words.
How not to bore people
Done the wrong way, telephone calls can (and often do) sound completely robotic. If your callers and call-team management feel disempowered to communicate your message, this will certainly come across to your supporters. With visual solicitation methods like mail, press and email, you have access to all the tools of design to make your charity look exciting. On the phone it’s down to what you have to say.
Make sure your message is fresh. If the core work of your charity is developing excitingly, you should have no problem at all in finding something new to talk to your supporters about each time you phone them. It’s not enough to set a script for the year, and then keep re-using it. Find little snippets to tell people – ideally linked to what you know they’re interested in. Our callers at Leeds have a ‘stories folder’ which we update throughout the year, to show how donations are helping the University in small and large ways.
Run a script workshop with your call team. How many of your experienced callers actually use the script you’ve written? I bet not many do. What you’ll find is that callers start using their own words – ‘magic phrases’ that they are sure will get them a gift every time! (Yes, superstitious thinking flourishes in the call room!) Some of those you’ll want to correct, because they’re ‘useful half-truths’ that could get you into trouble. But some of those phrases will be gold – concise and resonant with your supporters. So get your best callers together – make them feel special – and take your scripts apart. Write down things the way they’re spoken, even if it looks terrible! Then test it out.
By doing this, you’ll have given your team permission to use their initiative and empowered them as your ambassadors. That confidence will come through in the way they speak, and ask.