It’s big news.
Stanford University has shut down its annual fund telephone fundraising program. You can visit the university’s official web page announcing the decision by clicking here.
It’s all over the blog-a-sphere. It’s made headlines in publications for the nonprofit sector. For example, here’s a headline from The Chronicle of Philanthropy:
I’ll leave it to others to speculate about whether other charities will follow Stanford’s lead. I’ll also leave it to others to consider whether or not Stanford made a wise or foolish move. Instead, I’ll focus on whether or not you should also discontinue your organization’s telephone fundraising effort.
Simply put, you should probably keep your own telephone fundraising program. Here are just five of my random thoughts that lead me to that conclusion:
1. You do NOT work for Stanford, so don’t act like you do!
Unless I’m mistaken, you don’t work for Stanford, or Harvard, or Yale, or Cornell, etc. Such prestigious universities have built-in, loyal constituencies and, therefore, have a massive advantage over your charity. Not only could Stanford eliminate its phone program, it could fire nearly its entire development staff and still raise much more money than the average American nonprofit organization.
Your challenges are vastly different than those faced by Stanford. So, your challenges require different solutions. If you don’t work at Stanford, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you do.
2. Telephone fundraising is less effective than it was, but it still works.
Since the early 1980s, I’ve heard so-called experts predicting the extinction of telephone fundraising. Interestingly, many of those same folks also predicted the demise of direct mail.
They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. Neither mail nor phone are as effective as they once were. However, smart organizations have evolved their use of both. The outcome is that these organizations are still able to produce worthwhile results by both mail and phone. It’s not about extinction; it’s about innovation and evolution.
Colin Bickley, writing for NonProfitPRO, provides superb analysis of some of the telephone fundraising challenges faced by the nonprofit sector. However, Bickley concludes:
The telefundraising business is never going away, but it is changing. And right now, it’s clear that its changing more than ever.”
3. Don’t judge all telephone fundraising by looking just at bad programs.
I’m amazed at how many TERRIBLE telephone fundraising calls I receive. I suspect that the charities responsible are either disappointed with their program results, don’t know enough to be disappointed, or think they’re doing the best they can.
Let’s face it. If your calls are bad, your results will be bad. Remember the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Not all calling programs are of equal quality. If you’re not getting the results you want, look for opportunities to improve before abandoning the entire medium. You wouldn’t stop your direct mail efforts because one mailing didn’t do well, would you?
4. Master the fundamentals.
While there are certainly plenty of opportunities for charities to be more innovative with their phone fundraising, many could see significant gains by simply mastering the basics. As I stated above, I continue to be surprised by how many poor-quality fundraising calls I receive. So is Stephen F. Schatz, my former business partner and fellow telephone fundraising pioneer. Steve was so disgusted by the terrible calls he received regularly that he decided to do something about it.
Steve wrote the book Effective Telephone Fundraising: The Ultimate Guide to Raising More Money. Anyone serious about phone fundraising should read it. There’s no longer any excuse for making horrible calls. You should also read Steve’s blog post “5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls.”
5. Be innovative.
Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you’ll be well positioned to test some innovative tactics. For example, you might focus your calling efforts on current and recently lapsed donors rather than long-lapsed and non-donors. Or, you might test different ways of integrating direct mail and email with your calling program rather than looking at them as stand-alone appeals.
Test. Test. Test. That’s the way to find innovative solutions that suit your organization.
Again, should you follow Stanford’s example and eliminate your telephone fundraising program? Almost certainly, the answer is NO!
Used properly, the telephone remains an effective fundraising tool. Furthermore, it can help you build stronger relationships with your supporters. For example, my wife, a deeply committed supporter of Smith College, actually enjoys receiving an annual fund call from a student. She finds it a great way to informally hear about what’s going on at the campus. On occasion, she’s even provided advice to the students. It’s yet another way that she’s been able to engage personally with the Smith College community, making her feel more connected.
Let me know what you think. And, if you’ve discovered some innovative, effective tactics in your phone fundraising program, please share your ideas below.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?