Ruth MacKay reveals how a virtual fundraising model is changing the game for not-for-profit organisations – and helping to alleviate donor fatigue.

Ruth MacKay reveals how a virtual fundraising model is changing the game for not-for-profit organisations – and helping to alleviate donor fatigue.


Donor fatigue is a growing problem for Australia’s hardworking not-for-profit sector. With around 600,000 not-for-profit organisations competing for a slice of Australia’s $11 billion annual philanthropy market, there’s only so much to go around.
That’s led to some not-for-profits pursuing more aggressive tactics in their fundraising efforts, including outsourcing to cut-price call centers staffed by a transient workforce that doesn’t really understand the market.
The result? Rising levels of donor fatigue in Australia. A national survey recently revealed that one in four Australians receive unwanted calls from charities on a weekly basis. The Community Council for Australia – the peak body representing non-profit organisations – has even called on charities to seriously consider merging with each other to reduce the impact of donor fatigue.

I believe that the key is building long-term relationships with donors by inviting them on a life-long philanthropic journey as part of a community built on shared values. Now, that’s much easier said than done, and achieving it requires much more than just pretty words. That’s why we have embraced an entirely new business model that has transformed how we – and our clients – think about tele-fundraising.

Enter the virtual workforce

Many fundraising providers staff their call centres with transient workers – university students, backpackers, and people transitioning between careers. Inevitably, that leads to a very high staff turnover rate.

With tele-agents coming into and out of call centres at a rapid rate, it leaves their employers with little opportunity to provide meaningful training and development programs that look beyond short-term targets. And with new staff constantly on the books, it is difficult for these fundraising companies to build long-term relationships with their clients, let alone build donor communities.

The virtual workforce model, however, can change all that. But what does a virtual workplace look like?
Picture this: tele-agents work from their homes – or from anywhere else of their choosing – and come together for training, collaboration and social interaction in daily virtual classrooms. At the same time, team leaders closely track a range of performance metrics to ensure tele-agents feel recognised and celebrated when they achieve their KPIs, or are given the appropriate support and training when they do not.
The result is an engaged workforce that feels part of the team and fully supported by their managers, while enjoying the flexibility of working from home.

The benefits of the virtual workforce

The benefits of this virtual workforce can be immense – both for fundraising businesses that choose to embrace it, and for their not-for-profit clients. However, I believe there are two major benefits of the virtual model that are game changers for the not-for-profit industry.

Firstly, by freeing tele-agents from the need to commute to a central bricks-and-mortar workplace, the virtual model provides the work/life balance so many people crave.

This leads to significant improvements in staff retention rates, and with largely the same employees on board, virtual teams are able to build stable, long-term relationships with their clients, and develop a deep understanding of their objectives and donor communities.
Secondly, operating a virtual workplace means you can recruit tele-agents from anywhere in Australia – not just those who happen to live within commuting distance from a physical office.

That allows virtual businesses to recruit and retain a diverse range of experienced mature-aged agents, people who live in rural areas, and people with disabilities or mobility issues and their carers.

The result is a diverse workforce that is a more accurate sample of the Australian population. That, in turn, gives fundraising companies the ability to match their tele-agents with donors they can relate to through shared experiences.

A question of cost

While I would never advocate assessing fundraising services based on cost alone – this simply creates a race to the bottom where everyone suffers – the fact is that operating a virtual workforce significantly reduces the overhead costs associated with running a bricks-and-mortar operation.
With no steep rental bills for big city office spaces coming in, virtual businesses are able to pass many of these savings onto their clients, while still providing a fully compliant PCI DSS calling platform.
And with the superior work/life balance and elimination of transportation costs that comes with the virtual model, you will be able to attract and retain the top talent without simply offering inflated salaries.

Add to that significantly lower staff recruitment and training costs due to very low employee turnover rates, and you can start to see the savings associated with a virtual model.

At the end of the day, that means less money being spent on admin and more money being used on the ground to benefit the causes that are in such desperate need.


Ruth MacKay

Ruth is the managing director of OURTEL Fundraising Solutions and a finalist in the 2017 Telstra Business Women’s Awards. Her first book, The 21st Century Workforce, is available now. Discover more at


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