Saturday, June 18, 2011

On All Levels, A Failed Donor Call

Shortly after I arrived home on Friday I received a call from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a Virginia non-profit which we have supported in the past. After thanking me for my past support the caller did not interact with me, or tell me anything about the organization. Instead he immediately asked if I would pledge to increase my level of support. As a fundraiser I found the call to be most interesting. The caller made several mistakes which ultimately resulted in him settling for a gift that is about 20% of the size of last year’s gift and well below what I would have likely given later.

When the caller asked if I would give at a particular level, about 33% above last year’s gift, I noted that it would be a reach this year. I also noted that I would definitely give but it was too early to say the size since I normally make decisions about gift at that level in October/November. I implied that the gift would likely in the range of last year’s, but would not make a decision in June. Yet the caller asked if he could put me down that day for pledge, send me a pledge card for an amount just above what was given last year and if I could immediately return the pledge. Again, I noted that I only make that size of gift only in the fall.

By this point in the call the fundraiser had made some fundamental errors. First, he was not listening to the donor. I said, a) I would not give at the asked level, and b) that I gave the assurance that there would be a gift in October around the level of the last year. The caller not only did not acknowledge either statements but worse seemed have not heard them which lead to the next error, not engaging the donor as to the donor's desires and plans.

Hence, the second error the caller made by not picking up on the statements when a gift decision is made and not asking if he could call back in early to mid October. Such a request is normally received positively from committed donors as it works from the their timeframe. It also received well by the donor as the caller is acknowledging what the donor's statement and the donor's intentions. This was a perfect moment to engage the donor, to draw the donor closer to the heart of the organization. A less bonded donor could be driven away.

A judicious and donor centered fundraiser would have turned the conversation into a victory by talking about teh organization and why I like supporting it. The fundraiser could have but did not ask if I had any questions or if he could send me any information about the Foundation's work and upcoming projects. Instead, the caller made his third mistake, settling for a far lower gift.

His third mistake was being focused upon the sale rather than the donor. Hence, to make a sale (gaining a pledge that day to be paid in two weeks) the fundraiser settled for a far smaller gift. The fundraiser was in a transactional frame of mind…make a sale, secure a pledge at any level so that he could send a pledge card and add another tally. To this end the fundraiser went on to mention that a gift at $35 would allow me to receive Colonial Williamsburg's magazine for another full year. He then asked if I would commit to give a $35 pledge and pay within two weeks.

There had been numerous stop lights along the way but the fundraising speed through them on. I decided to see what would happen if I replied that if he wanted me to right then to pledge $35 to be paid immediately that I would do so, but that the gift would be the only gift for the year. In other words, I warned him that the ask was premature, and that he was about to get a little now rather than more later. He thanked me for the $35 pledge rather than giving in the fall. He thanked me and said the pledge card would arrive in the coming week.

As noted, the fundraiser was in a transactional frame of mind...make a sale and secure a commitment to give today at any level.

Since Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a classy organization, I have observed the Foundation and some of its work for several years. I have even used the Foundation in three studies as positive external comparison points for units within my own organization. I have felt it was the type of first class organization to which a fundraiser would be honored to be attached. I was greatly disappointed with the call and the fundraiser.

The message left me wondering if the unproductive call was a training issue or if my positve impression of the Foundation's development program is unfounded. There is another question that lingers in my mind…that Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Colonial Williamsburg is in such dyer straights that they need cash now so badly that they are willing to sacrifice future larger gifts for smaller gifts today. Dyer finanical straights is definitely not a message or question you want to leave in a donor’s mind.

Am I turned off by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation? Dissappointed, yes. Turned off, not really. Colonial Williamsburg is a cause worthy of support, and I suspect that it is either a training issue or that the Foundation farmed out the calls to an outbound call center...and the wrong call center at that.

Whether it was an internal staff person/volunteer or a call center, the fundraiser did not serve the Foundation well. The fundraiser was out to make a sale, conduct a transaction, gain his short-term goal, and not build a relationship with the donor. Thanking me for my past support was not at the heart of the call but only the jumping off point. I am sure that the fundraiser was happy with the result as he made a sale even though it cost the organization more money in the long-run. A donor centered fundraiser would have focused on the donor and secured the larger donation 100 to 120 days later.

For those friends who read this blog, many of whom are within my organization or are fundraisers other nonprofits, I would note that using outbound call centers can be effective if they are selected well for organizational fit and with proper success metrics in place.

If the Foundation used a call center they have not been well served by the center they is a firm that I would never use. There are call centers that work well for nonprofits and are sensitive to the differences between the profit and poltical sectors and traditional nonprofit sector. One must be mindful of the call center appraches as some make hard sells. Even when you think you have the right center continue to monitor their texts and randomly listen in calls (a common feature that can be done remotely) as they are being conducted.

By its nature fundraising has a transactional nature to it, particularly direct mail. Direct mail by its mass processes is highly transactional but can be less so when correct analytics is coupled with donor cultivation processes. Whenever one is talking live with a donor, even an annual donor who gives at a low level, it is the perfect opportunity to move beyond the transactional nature of fundraiser. Whether it is a call such as this, or a donor visit, conversations with a donor is an opportunity to build and enhance the relationship between the donor and organization. It is the the opportunity to learn learn a little more about the donor, to record what you have learned on their file, to educate donor and be educated on the donor, and to project your organization’s ethos and mission. Every conversation, even a call to say thank you can be the opportunity to draw the donor into the heart of your organization. The fundraiser failed to do any of these things and as the expression at that moment of the organization, the Foundation too failed to measure up to being a donor centered quality organization that I believe it to be.


Barbara said...

I've had a few calls similar to this. I find it very annoying that the person on the other end, who is seeking my money, refuses to hear what I have to say.
It really leaves me feeling badgered and puts these calls into the same category as telemarketing.

parsoncarson said...

Dave, I resonate with your comments.
I also am discouraged when I get hit up twice in the same year and no note is made of my earlier gift. In fact I have decided to no longer make a phone pledge so that I have more time to check and see what I have already given. Sadly, non-profits such as Colonial Williamsburg are being ill-served by such solicitations at a time when they need the funds the most.