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How (Not) to Raise Funds

Waterbed storeOnce upon a time, our homes were constantly invaded by telemarketers. They were pushy, rude, assumptive and would not take “no” for an answer unless we pronounced it at least three times. This grew from an inconvenience to an invasion so significant laws were passed to quell these calls…almost.

What remains are largely calls from political groups and charities. Most use the same annoying approach that generated Do Not Call laws. If you lead one of these organizations or a fundraising firm, take heed: adapt before you go the way of the waterbed store. And if you are raising funds yourself, don’t copy those calls — apply the tips below.

Why Adaptation is Awesome

Here’s why it’s time to adapt: When callers use an annoying pushy approach, they work much harder than necessary and the organization raises fewer funds. The outmoded approach and extra effort also means callers have less energy and make fewer calls; weary callers means higher turnover.

Below are specifics on what not to do, and what to do instead.

Don’t Tell Us You’re Just Calling To Thank Us

In cold calling land, “just” means only and you’re not only calling to thank us for our prior contribution. (It would be nice if you would, by the way.)

Instead: Tell us the real reason for your call — you’d like some more.

Don’t Leap Into A Lecture

This forces us to be rude when we don’t have time or inclination to listen, which only increases our irritation.

Instead: Ask permission to continue the call and drop it if we say ‘no.’

Don’t Tell Us The Sky Is Falling

Most of the people you call know a fair amount about the situation — sometimes we know quite a bit. Going on and on about how bad things are (as if we are unaware) is insulting. It wastes the callers’ and our time. And it makes us wonder why we should give you more money.

Instead: Tell us what you’re doing about it, thanks to our support.

Don’t Fib, Position, Or Try To Create Urgency

At the time this article is updated the next election for the House is indeed coming “soon.” Back in March of 2015, when it was first posted, the next election for the House was only coming “soon” if soon was way over a year away. Stretching the truth is uncomfortable for callers and pulls the organization’s image down.

Instead: Be fully truthful. And if there are no genuinely good reasons to ask for money now, don’t ask for money now.

“Most Give $150”

Ha! Fewer give that amount. Starting high and working your way down makes calls longer, adds to our annoyance, and results in fewer dollars overall.

Instead: Make it easy to give. Ask us what we’d like to contribute — you’ll actually get more that way.

Don’t Try To Guilt Us After We’ve Said “No”

It’s true: many people end up giving under pressure. It’s true: most will forget how annoyed they were by the time the next call comes around. But it’s also true these calls again take far more effort and more time.

Instead: Take no for an answer and move on to the next call.

Don’t Require Callers To Stick With The Script

Using another person’s words makes callers feel awkward and sound canned. Forcing callers to “handle” at least three objections takes more time, zaps their energy, and irritates most potential donors. That all adds up to lower performance and higher turnover.

Instead: Have callers put their own words into the script and use their own judgment.

What This Looks Like, In Total

My name is Shawn. This is a recorded call on behalf of Save the Somethings. Thank you for your prior support! I’d like to tell you what we’ve been doing with that support. And then see if you’d like to help again. Do you have a couple minutes?

If the caller gets permission to continue: In the last year we have (describe efforts, any successes, etc. without harping on challenges) Of course, we still need to work on this. Are you willing to make a contribution to help with that?

Side-Notes For Contributors

Give.org is a handy way to check out charities. (My personal choice is not to give if they don’t provide reports or do not meet the standards.)

All organizations are required to stop calling if you ask them, but you may need to be specific; as in “Remove me from your call list.”

Names on internal do not call lists usually drop after a couple years. Don’t get upset if they call you again: just tell them, “remove me from your call list” again.

To avoid giving when you don’t want to: Create a cheat sheet that lists the organizations you usually give to, when you last gave and how much, and a list of organizations you will not give to (including the ones you told to stop calling). Update it regularly, print it, and keep it handy by the phone so you don’t have to open a computer file.

Try to be nice to the callers even as you say no (three times). They are likely following rules or will lose their job.

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