Category Archives: Telephone fundraising

anything about using the telephone to fundraise

A ‘Power Index’ for fundraising channels?

OK, hold onto your hats – because this post contains stats! But I’ll try to make them as simple as possible.

If you’re a direct marketing fundraiser like me, you probably juggle a wide variety of channels – direct mail, online, phone, etc. etc. And I want to make sure I use the right ones, in the right order, to get the best results. And sometimes the ‘common sense’ answer isn’t the right one.

For example. Let’s say I have a lot of people who have given me cash gifts and I want to find the most cost-effective way to encourage as many of them as possible to give again, or go onto regular giving.

The ‘common sense’ way might say:

  • An email costs 6p
  • A mail pack costs roughly £1 – £1.50
  • A phone contact costs £7 – £9

So I should email first, follow up with mail, and then phone those who don’t respond to either of the first two approaches. That way I am being smart and getting the ‘cheapest’ results quickest. Right?

Not necessarily! What we have done here is mistake cost per appeal for cost per donor.

Because each of those channels has very different response rates. Cost per donor, as I’m sure you know, is obtained by dividing the cost of your appeal by the number of donors who give as a result of it.

When I look at my own appeal responses and costs and work out the costs per donor for email, mail and phone for existing cash donors I get the following:

  • Email – £3.50
  • Mail – £26
  • Phone – £26

Interesting. Email is still cheapest, but phone and mail are now tied. Will Return On Investment help us break them apart?

So I look at my ROI figures (on a 5 year basis) and I get the following:

  • Email – 36:1
  • Mail – 5:1
  • Phone – 4:1

OK, that would seem to settle it. Email beats mail, beats phone. But something is still niggling away at me.

Net income levels.

You see, I know email and mail have much lower response rates than phone, and I know I get much more net income per phone contact than per mail pack or email. It might be at a lower ROI but it will still be a lot more income for 1000 phone contacts, say, than for 1000 mail packs or 1000 emails. And I haven’t taken that into account in my workings yet.

So I look at net 5 year income (i.e. with costs already subtracted) per appeal for each channel and I get:

  • Email – £2
  • Mail – £7
  • Phone – £26

Ah. As I thought. Phone delivers 13 times as much net income per appeal than email and nearly 4 times as much as mail.

But which wins on the combination of ROI and net income? How can we express this as just one number that will balance the ROI vs the net income per appeal and make it really easy to make these comparisons?

Let’s multiply up to get some nice sized numbers! If we multiply the net 5 year income per appeal by the 5 year ROI for each channel we get:

  • Email – £2 * 36 (low income per appeal, great ROI) = 72
  • Mail – £7 * 5 (moderate income per appeal, good ROI) = 35
  • Phone – £26 * 4 (best net income per appeal, OK ROI) = 104

Aha! This seems to suggest I will get the best balance of ROI and net income by phoning first, then emailing, and then mailing.

It looks like we have come up with a Power Index here. I may be using the term ‘index’ incorrectly, I know! (I’m an English Literature graduate, after all.) I’m just thinking of it as a nice shortcut number.

Please note that of course the index number in and of itself is meaningless, except in relation to the other indices. And it will be different for everyone, depending on your ROI and net income per appeal figures, per channel, per appeal purpose. I’m not saying phone beats email beats mail for everyone – just for me, for this particular purpose.

Do you use a power index like this already to rank your fundraising channels? Over 1 year, 3 years or 5? I would love to know.




Filed under Analytics, Direct mail fundraising, Email fundraising, Fundraising, Online fundraising, Telephone fundraising

Flipping the coin

I took part in two great Twitter chats over this last week or so. One was instigated by Damian O’Broin (@damianobroin) of AskDirect – you can read a Storify of it here:

The other started off the back of the response to it from Danielle Atkinson of Merlin (@roxymartinique) – which you can read here:

Both are about what one thing you should do to improve direct marketing fundraising.

Damian’s chat focused on inspiring people, Danielle insisted on robust testing and measurement of the response of large numbers of people.

Both are right.

Direct marketing fundraising is a double-sided coin. On the one side the individual is writ large, because as the great advertiser Fairfax Cone said, we must

Write to one person, not a million

(Thanks to @jeffbrooks for that)

On the other side of the coin, you have the response of the million, or the ten thousand, or however many people your audience is made up of.

The King or Queen, and the realm, if you like.

And our job is to flip the coin in our minds – from one to many, and from many to one. Every day, every week, every month, and from one year to the next.

It’s challenging, and it’s exhilarating. And when you get it right, there’s no job like it.

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Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Email fundraising, Online fundraising, Telephone fundraising, University fundraising

Oh dear. Dear @GreenPeace…

…I think you’re awesome, I really do. I love the Save the Arctic campaign – the polar bears, and the scaling of the Shard. But I wish you loved me more.

It’s the little things. Like getting my first cash appeal a week after I signed up to a regular gift online. And then getting my welcome pack two months later.

Or the phone call I had a couple of weeks ago after I’d entered your Glastonbury competition. Would I like to make a regular gift to Greenpeace?

I thought I had a regular gift to Greenpeace, but maybe it had stopped when I changed banks (I lose track of these things), so I asked the pleasant caller to check for me.

“Oh, I can’t do that,” he said. “Well, can you pass my question back to Head Office?” “Perhaps you could go online and check your bank statements,” he said.

Now I’m a busy person, and for various reasons I’m extra busy at the moment . So that’s a no, really.

So today I’m on the train and the same pleasant caller calls me back. “Just wondering if you’ve had time to check your bank statements,” he says.

“I thought I’d asked you to check for me?” I replied.

“Oh no, you see I’m in a fundraising centre and I just get passed certain details here.”

I feel like the folks in the Wizard of Oz must have felt when the curtains got drawn back to show a little man pulling levers and turning wheels. I’m just part of a mechanical system.

How much better would it have been if he’d been able to tell me either way?

How much, really, would it have cost to have the system in place to treat me like a valued supporter, whether my gift had lapsed or not?

That’s what I call a false economy.

Because now I don’t feel I’m special to you anymore, Greenpeace. And if my gift has lapsed (and I really don’t have time to check, believe me), do I really want to start it up again now?

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Filed under Fundraising, Telephone fundraising

Why I’m not watching The Call Centre

Knowing what I do – which partly involves managing a team of around 75 student telephone fundraisers – a lot of people have been asking me if I’ve been following the new BBC3 documentary, The Call Centre, with its ‘charismatic’ CEO, Nev.

The answer’s been no, partly because I’ve been so busy over the last few weeks running my own! But last night I thought I’d try and catch up. And I gave up after just a few minutes.

Not because I don’t like Nev’s management techniques, although some of it does seem to border on bullying.

No, I gave up because I don’t agree with what they’re doing. The dishonesty inherent in their sales calls.

Whatever kind of call centre I run, I’m glad that at a very basic level it’s founded on honesty.

None of the people who donate to my wonderful student callers are going to see their money again. That’s it, gone. No free broadband, no impartial assessment of their loft and cavity wall insurance needs from one of my fully trained ‘experts’.

They are giving to my amazing university with no expectation of something in return.

Except this – my promise that their money will be spent as they wish.

That it will allow a new student somewhere to access the amazing store of knowledge that should be the birthright of every human being who can make use of it.

That it will build a new library. That it will help fund research that matters.

And I promise that their gift will be prized. That they won’t just be another sales number. That their messages of kindness will be heard, their memories treasured.

A call-centre that treasures its staff and its donors.
A workplace built on honesty through and through – that’s what I’m proud to run.

Sorry, Nev, you’ve lost me.


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Filed under Film, books and TV, Fundraising, Telephone fundraising

Scripting for the phone – or how to be a good uninvited guest…


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.


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Filed under Fundraising, Telephone fundraising