The telephone is an increasingly valuable component of nonprofit fundraising programs. So your choice of supplier is important. Ashley Rose suggests seven areas to cover with agencies you’re thinking to enlist so you can be sure you’re speaking the same language and getting the best bang for your telephone fundraising buck.
Just as charities come in a variety of shapes, sizes and skill-sets, so too do telephone fundraising agencies. It is vital you determine the right partner for you. A poor partnership could seriously impact the bottom line of your overall marketing or fundraising budget, while a solid one could see it soar.
Having worked in telephone fundraising within the charity sector in Australia, New Zealand and the UK for the past 16 years, I have come across every variation in proposal, pitch and request for information from charities both large and small looking to review their telephone fundraising agency or engage a new one. A successful telephone campaign comes from the relationship you have with your agency and this starts at the proposal stage. So it is not a step to be rushed through.
Here are top tips for the conversations to have with a telephone fundraising supplier before you decide to go further:
1. Tell the agency how many people you would like called – Leaving the proposition and cost to one side, consider how many supporters you intend to canvass. Giving a clear indication of the volume of calls at this early stage will enable the agency to provide you with a potential calling strategy, advice on who to target first and revenue projections. Size matters for most agencies. The campaign size may warrant a pilot prior to any roll-out or larger campaign. And a large campaign may enable you to ask for and receive a discount.
2. Share past campaign results with them – This includes call volumes, revenue results, segmentation, pledge rates, average gift values and script themes. With these details, an agency can provide more precise projections that will not only be a more accurate guide for your planning and budgeting, but will help reduce the potential for the costs to exceed expectations during the campaign Also withholding past results from them can waste time, which will ultimately counteract your aim to get the most from your program.
3. Share the same information with every supplier you are approaching – Make sure you provide the same information to each agency you speak with so you can more reliably compare and assess their responses. Look for red flags. For example, is one agency projecting a wildly different pledge rate or cost of sale? Differences of a few percent or a few dollars are to be expected. But if there are significant differences in cost or anticipated results, look carefully and ask questions.
Agencies will tell you what differentiates them, however, the truth is that all agencies work under some fairly static industry standards. Variables like number of contacts per hour or penetration rates may differ from campaign to campaign, but not dramatically. Fee structures may well vary but you should expect clarity in whatever this structure is and make sure you understand the pricing model.
4. Ask about the good, the bad and the ugly – Every agency can tell you about their best campaigns and will happily regale you with every detail. All very nice to hear, but if you are selecting a new agency you need to dig deeper. Every agency has some bad and ugly campaigns under their belts.
Ask each agency for a few examples of campaigns that didn’t go so well. Ask them how they handled those situations. Listen carefully to how they responded; this will give you some good insights into the difference between each agency. Ask for contacts you can speak with at the organisations concerned, then make the time to actually speak with these people and any other references. The honest feedback you’ll receive will be very helpful.
5. Have a chat with the telephone fundraising team – Make an on-site visit to the agency to get a peek behind the scenes that will help you be sure you are getting what you expect. Find out who will be working on your campaign. Ask them about their skill level and experience. If an agency is achieving good results it’s always down to a team effort. Try to ascertain how the team functions from the most junior level to the most senior.
6. Be ready to answer lots of questions – Remember a conversation is two-way and you will need to make yourself available to provide a supplier with the details they request. And beware of the agency that doesn’t have lots of questions for you. A good agency will look to fully understand your goals and how telephone fundraising fits into your overall strategies. If an agency provides you with a proposal they haven’t created with your cooperation, how can you be sure of its value?
7. Call them yourself – Start your enquiries about an agency’s services by phone. First impressions count and you’ll get a strong sense of how they operate well before the glossy brochure or e-mails arrive.
Finally, telephone fundraising agencies that are a good fit with your organisation will have similar values and objectives to yours. A common understanding of the importance of results, performance and reputation helps too. Let the conversations begin.
Ashley Rose is chief executive officer of the telephone fundraising agency MonDial. He has spent 16 years helping charities in Australia and the UK including Save the Children, Barnardo’s and Greenpeace to build their income through phone and face-to-face fundraising.