Digital lead generation for telephone fundraising

Over the 3 years that Parachute Digital has been working with charities to find and nurture prospective donors, using online channels, we have seen a lot of change.

The demand for our services has sky-rocketed. As has the demand for tele-fundraising services.

Tele-fundraising for donor acquisitionSome tele-fundraising companies have risen to the occasion, have resourced up and worked to support charities in their bid to grow their organisations donor numbers and income to achieve important missions. Mondial Fundraising is the best we’ve worked with – for their technology and data practices, for their calling etiquette and the creative flair of their scripts. The fundraisers are passionate and knowledgable about the cause. There are checks and balances in place to make sure that supporters receive only a few (3) calls and if the donor declines, they are removed from the list and thanked politely for their time.

Others have risen up but have done so through relentless calling, pushy sales conversations and poor customer service where data is not updated. There has been public outrage in the UK and now the furer has floated down under. Choice Magazine are running a petition to have charities removed from the Do Not Call Register, because some tele-fundraising agencies are abusing the privilege and allegedly harassing prospective donors.

Tele-fundraising petition

Choice petition to remove charity exception from the Do Not Call Register because of poor tele-fundraising practices

I understand the temptation to take on more projects, to do more, to achieve more. Fundraising Managers have aggressive targets and high expectations. But we are coming undone and there needs to be some balance restored – for all our sakes.

But let me take you back to explain how we got to this place.

New and promising acquisition channel

2014 was a great year for results. Online we were able to deliver excellent volumes for our clients and good quality. We were able to measure the quality based on the email open and click through rates as well as the contact rate that our leads were getting with Telemarketers (60%) and the conversion rates were excellent. Some of our environmental charity clients were getting Contact to Regualar Giving donor conversion rates of 15% and 18%, but most were around 10-13%.

But with great success brings increased demand. 2015 saw a dramatic uplift in investment in digital leads and testing of this new channel. We had more demand for our services:

  1. to generate prospective donor leads for charities and
  2. take supporters on an email onboarding journey to build trust and credibility [of the organisation] and
  3. to warm them up for an RG phone ask.

Respect the donor and value the non-financial supporter

While our clients were investing in giving their donors a really good experience and demonstrating their work and how donor money was spent. Other charities were getting the cheapest leads with the highest volume and sending them straight to the phones to ask for an regular monthly donation.

With increased demand and competition and pressure to deliver, it can sometimes mean that standards are compromised in an effort to do more. We have started to observe this creeping into the Tele-fundraising space and into the digital lead generation space. And we have to acknowledge our role in this mess.

Saying no to your favourite charities Saying no to bad fundraising practices

Parachute Digital has always had charities ask us to do lead generation for telephone conversion. Because we believe that every digital strategy should be built on content and because we want to value supporters and non-financial donors, we decline to work with organisations who do not invest in the nurture journey and choose to only call and make an ask as the first contact point.

In two occasions, organisations who I desperately wanted to work with (Women’s Rights + Refugee Advocates), who fit with my personal values and those of Parachute Digital, were taking this approach, and it pained me to say No. But we did, because we aim to be truly donor centric and we want our leads to turn into long-term supporters for the causes we work with.

This was the first thing I did to make sure that we were not compromising on quality and taking on projects that I did not agree with the strategy.

Own up to our role in the mess

The second area I’ve had to acknowledge our role in the mess is in working with charities to acquire new donors, when they chose not to invest in retention. Every time an organisation approaches me to help them acquire new donors, I speak to them about their donor journey and the importance of investing in retention. We show them the funnel and projections and how few donors will actually convert to regular giving and how important it is to nurture those who don’t convert on the phones in the first month of the program, because we will convert more to online donors over time. And they nod and say “we agree…. but we can’t afford both acquisition and retention at the same time. Next year we’ll invest in retention.”

And I have accepted that because financially and resource wise I know its true. But next year they never invest in the retention work and they keep piling more supporters into the top of the funnel, sending them on a brilliant 2 week onboarding journey, calling them and then these incredible supporters are left mostly untouched. Until they need numbers for an acquisition calling campaign in 12 months time, when they’re pulled out again.

So from now on, Parachute Digital will not take on acquisition projects that do not also follow through on a nurture and retention journey for at least 4 months after the supporter has been welcomed into the organisation and mission.

That’s what we can do to stop perpetuating the cycle. It will mean a few less projects for us, but we can hold our head up high and know that we do the right thing by the donor, and hopefully the right thing for the long term ROI of the leads generated and the income produced from digital fundraising.

Tele-fundraising under pressure

Nothing I can do online will deliver as good a fundraising result as a person-to-person conversation. Tele-fundraising and face to face fundraising remains the best way to acquire a new monthly donor to your organisation. But if we don’t hold our agencies to account, if we don’t use best practice when we’re calling donors, we’re going to be punished for it. And it will be our own fault. We have the ability to self-regulate and to show our donors respect and gratitude. And that is not what is happening at the moment.

I urge all fundraisers to consider the long-term impact on our industry. We need to do things the right way, not just the way that gets the best results for a short time. In Fundraising, 3 years of beautiful honeymoon with the digital lead generation and telemarketing is not worth it.