The Wrong Numbers In Telephone Fundraising

Published by Simon Scriver on

Dont Leave Me Hangin On The TelephoneI grew up in that profoundly awkward era where we all had landlines and nobody had mobile phones. When I phoned a girl I was trying to woo it was paralysingly scary – one of her parents may well have answered and I’d have to deal with that.

That was bad…but even now, where we essentially have a direct line to anyone, making that call can be terrifying. Maybe that’s why so many people try to avoid picking up the phone?

A recent study in Ireland found that only 2% of charities used the phone to fundraise. Compare that to 3.6% of charities using ‘international treks’. Some people would rather climb Kilimanjaro than pick up the phone. And haven’t we all be in the position of sending way too many e-mails back and forth rather than a quick call, simply because we couldn’t face talking to someone?

I’ve found one of the common traits of great members of staff is a willingness to pick up the phone. Seriously. If a fundraiser (or any staff member) delays and deflects that phone call then I’m sorry to say it’s probably not going to work out.

For me, nothing beats telephone. It’s relatively cheap, instantly adaptable, completely personalised, scalable, and it integrates with everything you do. It’s easy to launch and easy to stop. Anyone can do it – you don’t need an agency. Your charity should know what it’s doing with its phones (and I mean really know what it’s doing) before it touches anything else.

So, as the eloquent telephone fundraising guru Adrian Salmon once said, “Why aren’t we protecting Voice?”

“Voice”! Have you ever heard a telephone call described so wonderfully? And maybe that’s part of the problem: we think of the telephone as this lump of plastic on our desks rather then this amazing instrument that allows us to put our voice – one of our most powerful fundraising tools – in a potential donors home and head.

The truth is that we undermine phone. We prioritise digital and all these fancy new medias while we hang up the phone. Perhaps because we undermine it, in many ways we’re seeing a race to the bottom…

Lovely dedicated telephone fundraising agencies exist, but instead very often we’re seeing charities hand their calls over to sales companies with bland scripts and auto-diallers. We suck the life and love out of the calls and strip our fundraisers of their personalities. Why? A lack of trust? Because it makes the calls cheaper?

And then the smaller charities who keep their telephone work in-house very often don’t invest in training or skill. Why? Because they don’t believe in it? Is it actually only 2% of charities that use the phone to fundraise, or do they not realise that every phone call is a fundraising call?

Yes…calls to your fundraisers, calls to your volunteers, thank-you calls…they’re all fundraising calls. And every time your phone rings? That’s a fundraising call.

At the IFC in Holland I’ll be speaking about why Voice is worth saving and why there’s room to grow. I’ll be spelling out exactly what makes a good and bad fundraising call and we’ll be listening to actual samples. We’ll mystery shop some charities and I’ll tell you about the multiple times I phoned up to make a donation and was unable to do so.

You might also come to understand why I love telephone fundraising. And why so many girls have dumped me by text message.


International Fundraising Congress (IFC)This post is part of the 2014 IFC Series. 101fundraising is proud to be the blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress! Check out HERE when Simon is presenting at the IFC.

Simon Scriver

Simon Scriver is a professional fundraising consultant, coach, trainer, and practitioner. Simon has won Fundraising Ireland's 'Small Budget, Big Impact' and ‘Supplier Of The Year’ Awards, Eircom’s Start-up Award, and is a 2019 finalist of Charities Institute Ireland’s Communications Agency of the Year. He is a TEDx speaker and has previously won the Toastmasters UK & Ireland International Speech Contest. He also sits on the Advisory Panel of Rogare, the international fundraising think tank, and is a member of the Institute of Fundraising and the AFP. Simon also offers consultancy to some of the biggest and smallest charities in Ireland and abroad. He offers advice and training to non-profits to make their fundraising more cost-effective, speaking regularly at international conferences. He holds a Diploma in Fundraising and a Certificate in Fundraising.


Bethan Holloway · October 6, 2014 at 15:52

Yes Simon! Just what we’ve always said .. see an old post from Alex one of our Account Director’s on this http://pellandbales.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/why-are-we-still-hanging-up-on-the-telephone/

looking forward to hearing the reaction from your session at IFC .. make sure you say hi when you’re there!

Joe Matassino · October 6, 2014 at 16:00

Simon, all very good points.

And although I agree with much of what you’ve said, your post is timely. I’ve recently had donors and volunteers say to me that they prefer to be communicated with via email. I’ve even had some start texting me.

While I feel the phone call is so much more personal, I guess it ultimately depends on the donor’s preferences. No?

    Simon Scriver · October 6, 2014 at 16:49

    Thanks for the comments Joe.

    Personally – and many would disagree with me – I believe that people will almost always say that they prefer to be communicated with in the most passive way, eg. e-mail. You’ll often hear donors say that they don’t want any communication at all – you should save money on printing/postage!

    But what we say we want and what we actually want is two different things. Response rates for further appeals and communication are always better on hard copy than e-mail. And better on telephone than both. And that’s because it’s a human interaction that will hold people’s attention for much longer than an e-mail.

    So as fundraisers I think we need to ‘sell’ the idea of getting a phone call, because the response is so much better. The donor needs to believe the phone calls will be pleasant, enjoyable and a lovely conversation. And then we need to deliver on that.

    If they STILL want to opt-out of the phone calls then of course we have to respect that. And of course we need to take in to account matching: if someone texts then it’s appropriate to text back, if someone e-mails then e-mail back. But if you’re reaching out to them…for me it’s gotta be phone.

Jiří Krupa · October 24, 2014 at 17:43

I just want to comment on mr Scriver´s session at IFC 2014 – he absolutely managed to deliver all the stuff promised above. Job well done, it was really meaningful workshop.


The Wrong Numbers In Telephone Fundraising | Print my recipes · October 7, 2014 at 06:00

[…] The Wrong Numbers In Telephone Fundraising […]

Fundraisingwoche vom 06.10.-12.10.2014 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · October 13, 2014 at 18:00

[…] The Wrong Numbers In Telephone Fundraising 101Fundraising: Is it me you’re looking for? The sad extinction of the donor sapiens […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *