5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls

Yes, these are the right 5! Esp. number 3 🙂 Via @MLInnovations

Michael Rosen Says...

With this blog post, I’m launching a new, regular feature at Michael Rosen Says. Periodically, I’ll invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’re an author who would like to be considered, please contact me directly.

For the first author-guest-post, I invited Stephen F. Schatz, CFRE, author of Effective Telephone Fundraising: The Ultimate Guide to Raising More Money, the definitive book about how to make a successful appeal using the phone. Steve and I worked together as telephone fundraising pioneers. In his book, for which I wrote the Foreword, he reveals most of our proven techniques. Step-by-step, his book shows the right way, the most effective way to do telephone fundraising. As the back-cover says, “Despite the advent of sophisticated fundraising methods via the Internet, social media, and other online platforms, the bottom-line truth is: good old-fashioned telephone fundraising still works, bringing in…

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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: http://bit.ly/1pxWiHZ

The other started off the back of the response to it from Danielle Atkinson of Merlin (@roxymartinique) – which you can read here: http://charity-chick.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/getting-basics-right-2-direct-marketing.html?m=1

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

A Friday amusement for telephone fundraisers

We’ve come to the end of our Autumn telephone campaign at Leeds and as some of my friends and colleagues know it’s been the tradition over the last 5 years that I perform a song, sometimes written by the callers and sometimes by me, where all the lyrics are changed to be about fundraising and the things we get up to in a call room.

I’m quite pleased with my latest effort, so I thought I’d share the finished version, which I’ll be singing tonight.

Here’s a reworking of the Robbie Williams classic ‘Angels’ – ‘Engaged Calls’:

I sit and wait
Does the supervisor contemplate my fate?
And do they know
The websites where we go
When the data’s old?
‘Cos I’ve been told
That they can watch us while their games unfold
But when my headset’s on my head
And my story cards I’ve read
And my engagement’s in my head
I get engaged calls instead.

And through it all
They offer me confection
To help me deal with rejection
When the shift is long

I make another call
Wherever it may take me
I hope my headset won’t break and
When I get a callback for a PDD
I get engaged calls instead

When it’s a weekend shift
And my 3 ask technique needs a lift
I look above
And I know I can get a one to one
And as the laser maze game goes
I get rewards of Haribos
And when my headset’s on my head
I get engaged calls instead


And through it all
They offer me confection
To help me deal with rejection
When the shift is long

I make another call
Wherever it may take me
I hope my headset won’t break and
When I get a callback for a PDD
I get engaged calls instead

Merry Christmas everyone and a very happy New Year 🙂

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Donor retention is simple…

Donor retention. It’s all everyone talks about these days – and quite right too. It costs a lot of money to inspire someone to give to your cause, and that’s money wasted if all those donors simply enter stage left and exit stage right.

But it’s talked about as if it’s some big intractable problem, whereas it seems to me that the answer is blindingly obvious.

It’s all about manners.

We must simply remember, at all times, that we do not have an automatic right to receive any single one of our donors’ gifts. Not one. People give to us for a whole array of reasons, of course. But in the end, it all boils down to a rather corny phrase – they give out of the goodness of their hearts. And I know that if I, as a donor, don’t feel that this is in some minimal way acknowledged, I am very, very unlikely to become a ‘loyal supporter’ of a cause.

People give to people. Another true thing, and it’s said so often you are probably sick of it. But we seem to only heed this wisdom in terms of acquisition. If we take that maxim into retention as well, we should know instinctively what we need to do to retain our donors.

We must work terribly hard to remain people to them. Treat them as individuals. Make an effort to get to know them. Help them to feel like an important part of our cause’s family. And yes, let them know, often, that their ongoing support matters, and how best we would like them to continue it.

The problem, of course, is one of scale. And I think it is about your own perceived scale – how ‘big’ as a charity you internally feel yourselves to be, and how your structures are informed by that perception.

If you feel yourself to be a fundraiser in a ‘small’ charity, then you may well struggle with acquisition because of budgetary challenges. Acquisition is expensive. But your donor retention should be excellent, since the fact that your charity looks and feels small, and because you feel it to be so, will be an automatic bonus for donors. Because for small, read personal. It will be much, much easier for them to feel connected to you. If they phone up, the chances are they will reach you, or someone who sits next to you. If they email in, it is most likely to be you that monitors that inbox and ensures a prompt and personal reply to their enquiry.

That’s the way it works for me and my colleague Katie at Leeds. We are a big university, for sure. But in terms of numbers of donors, we are still a ‘small’ charity. Yes, we have a number of great colleagues who do database work, gift processing, and stewardship. But as well as planning and running all our direct marketing appeals via phone, mail and online, Katie and I are also front-line supporter services for the majority of our donors. If our alumni like or don’t like what we are doing, we will hear about it, quickly.

And I see that as a big plus. We are lucky to work with a great creative agency to help us plan and write our appeals, and we regularly send them the feedback we have received from the people we have phoned or written to.

This is perceived as unusual. “We don’t get this from most of our clients,” say our account team.

Frankly, this shocks me. Is there really such a glass wall between most ‘direct response’ fundraisers, and the people who are directly responding? How can you really call yourself a direct response fundraiser if you don’t see, respond to,  and if necessary pass on at least some of the direct response?

It would seem to me that if that is how your charity operates, you have become too ‘big’. You have ceased to see donors as individuals and merely in terms of percentage response. Maybe you refer to personal letters from donors as ‘white mail’? Maybe you don’t see or read the majority of it (because it is handled by your supporter services team or an external response-handling agency?), far less respond with anything other than a form letter.

And if this happens in your charity, then you will always struggle to maintain the loyalty of your donors, because there is no person in your charity for them to feel connected with, even to a minimal extent. You will become perceived as impersonal, and maybe even rude.

And the solution to this is simple. Don’t try to change the donors. Change yourselves. Find ways to become people again, that your donors will want to continue to give to. Stop being an organisation. It is very easy for people to say no to an organisation. It is not so easy for people to say no to people.


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What good is a degree?

Another article published, suggesting that since recent graduates are earning less than their predecessors, and many are employed in jobs that do not require graduate skills, that the value of a degree is somehow called into question. This makes me sad.

I have always found it hard to sympathise with the purely instrumental argument around education – at whatever stage. Do we think we are purely educating our future generations for the benefit of as yet unknown future employers? I would hate to think that – that the entire purpose of years spent studying in the sciences, social sciences and humanities was simply so that someone could write a better memo, chair a better meeting, or turn in a better argued and referenced marketing plan. What a hollow world results from that conclusion.

Of course some degrees are professional and vocational and comprise the body of knowledge required to be a doctor, teacher or engineer, among many other professions. This we know.

But education is vastly more than that. G K Chesterton memorably described it as, “simply the soul of a society passed from one generation to the next.”

If we take such an instrumental view, what then is our society’s soul? It would look to me like the misshapen, pitiful remnant of Voldemort left on the platform of the imaginary King’s Cross station at the end of the Harry Potter stories, for which Dumbledore sorrowfully says nothing more can be done. A soul without wonder, without curiosity and without love – in this case the love of knowledge and learning that is our true human heritage and birthright.

If anything distinguishes us as human beings it is not our better mating or survival strategies compared to other species. It is that, as far as we currently know, we are alone in the animal kingdom in our quest to know and understand our universe – both outer and inner – and pass that knowledge and understanding on. It is a fundamental human heritage, and to my mind a fundamental human right that we should all have the opportunity to access that treasure of learning and questioning.

Yes, we need physical food and shelter and basic security. But we also need mental food, safe places for wherever inquiry may lead, and the opportunity to be amazed, awed and moved by art, by science and by the intricacy and contradictoriness of our own natures as social beings.

That is the true value of a degree. As a society we should be prepared to invest in all levels of education, not for any sense of immediate financial return, but for the return to our society’s soul – however you may care to define it. And it should be open to all and any who can benefit from it.

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Why are we still hanging-up on the telephone?

What I have been saying for years….

Pell & Bales


Considering the contribution that the telephone makes to the sector, I am always surprised at the lack of content about the channel at fundraising conferences. If you exclude (the rather good session) on mobile and SMS fundraising there was barely a mention of the channel at the IFC this year. Odd when you consider that response rates on the phone eclipse all other channels . And surely there is much to learn from the millions of conversations we are having with donors every year?

Sure it got the odd mention, more so perhaps than previous years, what with SMS and mobile making the channel more exciting and fashionable ,  but really nothing more than a mention here and there.

One such mention came from Stephen Pidgeon, a strong advocate of the phone.  When talking of how SMS Prospecting was changing the fundraising landscape in the UK, he asked the…

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Fundraising, early music, and dissonance

A while ago, I was at a workshop with Aline Reed and Mark Phillips from Bluefrog. We were doing that icebreaker thing, where you say what you do outside work, and I mentioned that I spend a lot of time singing 17th Century music, and that I found a lot of parallels between that, and what I do as a direct marketing fundraiser. Cue raised eyebrows!

Then recently I had a fascinating Twitter chat with Derek Humphries on the links between art and fundraising, and some of what I had been thinking came into focus. So here goes – I know Mark and Al have waited a long time for this one!

What I love about the 16th and 17th century composers – Morley, Tomkins, Byrd, Tallis, Purcell, and many more – is that they didn’t see themselves as Artists with a capital A. They were craftsmen – highly-skilled, journeymen musicians who aspired to the highest standards of their art without overstating their own importance as personalities. In a way, a really good description of fundraisers, too!

The other thing I love about them is, once you tune into it, the level of emotional intensity in their music. No one piece sums this up for me better than Henry Purcell’s amazing masterpiece, Hear My Prayer, O Lord. Go on, have a listen (after the ad):

That’s emotional, isn’t it? Did you feel the hair on the back of your neck start to go up after the first 20 seconds or so? That’s because of Purcell’s masterly use of dissonance (or as we musos call it, a really good scrunch).  A term we more often use nowadays in a cognitive sense, but it has its roots in music – it’s a note or series of notes that doesn’t belong in the harmony, put there deliberately. Hear My Prayer is totally built on dissonance – the musical phrases wind back on themselves tightly, like really strong rope.

Here’s another example – the famous Crucifixus by the Italian composer, Lotti:

It’s just what we’re aiming for when we write a fundraising letter for a really urgent cause. That strength of purpose and feeling, that unexpected jarring note to make our reader really sit up and take notice. Music magnifies that feeling about a hundred-fold, (and that’s probably why the choice of music can make or break a charity TV ad for me). And notice the use of the repetition in the Lotti. Different voices coming in all over the place with the same musical idea. Repetition is really encouraged in music, in a way it isn’t often in writing.

As fundraisers, we should be masters of dissonance too, just like Purcell and Lotti. We should know when to use it and when not, when to give our listeners a break. But unlike the musical masters, we shouldn’t be afraid of leaving our readers and donors on an unresolved chord – for them to supply the final cadence.

Lastly, you’ll notice that a lot of this music is polyphonic – each voice goes its own way, and builds the harmony with the others as it goes. That sums up for me the way we can use our different fundraising channels. If we do it badly, there’s always the risk it will end up a bit like this (not that this isn’t a brilliant 20th century masterpiece, but it’s not what we want):

No, what we are after, when our programme is really working for us – our mail, online, phone and what-have-you all ticking along together – is the miraculous easy complexity of Orlando Gibbons – listen to how this piece just purrs along like a musical Rolls Royce:

So there you go. It may just be me of course, who thinks this all has any relevance to fundraising. If so, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you enjoyed the music!







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