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Our virtual workforce model has been very successful in attracting and retaining mature tele-agents who bring a wide depth and breadth of work and experience to our team. It’s all about empathy and life experience, explains Ruth MacKay.

It’s all about empathy and life experience, explains Ruth MacKay

Australia’s baby boomers are a generous bunch. According to an HSBC study, more than two thirds of Australian retirees plan to leave an inheritance with an average value in excess of $635,000. That’s more than four times the global average, and evidence that many Australian retirees are focused on their legacies.

While most of those inheritances will be passed down to the next generation, around 10% of retired couples do not have children – and that number is only set to grow. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that by somewhere between 2023 and 2029 there will be more people in a relationship living without children than families with kids.

These are compelling numbers for Australia’s many charities and nonprofit organisations that are facing growing competition in the fundraising market. With the increasing number of Australian retirees without kids, bequest campaigning will prove more and more valuable for charities. However, bequest campaigning requires a completely different skillset than regular fundraising. It’s a sensitive topic and bringing it up with your long-term donors requires a mature touch.

At OURTEL, we’ve run bequest campaigns for a diverse range of charities including Médecins Sans Frontières, the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. We’re proud to have doubled the average industry connectivity  rate from 30% to between 60% and 75% for these campaigns. I credit much of our success to the maturity and high emotional intelligence of our tele-agents. Our virtual workforce model has been very successful in attracting and retaining mature  tele-agents  who  bring a wide depth and breadth of work and life experience to our team. This is in part due to the flexibility the virtual work model offers our employees.

The virtual model allows our tele-agents to work from home in their own space. They don’t have to worry about long commutes to a central office, which are particularly difficult for mature people who may have specific lifestyle preferences. Rather, they can work from anywhere in Australia. That means they can enjoy the lifestyle they want – whether that’s living on the beach or close to their grandkids – without giving up the income and social contact of a workplace.


For many of our tele-agents, money isn’t the primary driver of their choice to work for OURTEL. Take Ali Erzeren, for example. He is one of our leading bequest campaigners and brings not only an incredible depth of professional experience to the company, but also the life experience that makes him a natural fit for our bequest campaigns. Ali is 60 years old and has been with us for two years. He was self-employed for many years in the clothing and IT industries, and was attracted to OURTEL for the hours and flexibility we offer.

Ali’s years of professional experience mean that he’s comfortable communicating with people from a diverse range of backgrounds – he has even spoken to seven people over the age of 100 in the past 12 months. But it’s Ali’s incredible life experience that makes him so much more valuable than any KPI could reveal.

Ali has travelled extensively and spent time in Bangladesh. He shares a story about checking out of his hotel in the capital and noticing a hotel porter following him to the airport. When the porter caught up with Ali, he offered him a gift and begged Ali to take his wife and young daughter to Australia. This reduced Ali to tears and is one reason why he has the high level of empathy he believes is necessary to develop connections with the people he talks to.

This episode became particularly pertinent for Ali during a recent bequest campaign for Médecins Sans Frontières that focused on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh. His experience in Bangladesh drives a deep personal connection with the work he does. Having experienced the crisis there firsthand, Ali understands and values the work organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières do in a way that not many other people can.

For Ali, his job is much more than a set of KPIs and a pay cheque. It’s an opportunity to have a positive impact on the world, and he exudes that integrity in every call he makes – whether the person he’s talking with is bequeathing $25 or $25,000.


Bequest campaigns also require a high level of emotional intelligence. It’s very difficult to train employees in qualities like compassion and empathy. In my view, it takes time and life experience for people to develop an intuitive ability to build relationships and communicate with people on sensitive topics.

Jackie Nixon and Amanda Zardani are both working mothers with school-aged children and have compassion and empathy in spades. Jackie joined OURTEL six years ago after a career in the Australian defence industry. She has been working on bequest campaigns for four years and believes that compassion and a light touch are the key qualities required to achieve a successful bequest campaign.

Jackie has worked on bequest  campaigns for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and thinks of her calls as like speaking to long lost friends. She says it’s most important to not bulldoze people, but rather to respect their privacy and spend time building relationships. She will often laugh and cry along with the people she speaks with as they reveal their experiences with breast cancer. Jackie is a very warm person and believes that the key to putting that warmth across to donors is to focus on the person, not the numbers.

Amanda shares that view. She joined OURTEL last year after working in the fundraising department of the RSPCA. She’s worked on bequest campaigns for the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, and says her donors often share touching personal stories. She remembers the elderly lady who told her the heartbreaking story of coming to Australia from England by boat with her young son in the 1950s, only for the boy to pass away due to complications from diabetes. The lady has been a long-term supporter of the Baker Institute.

Amanda says it’s vital for tele-agents to use a soft touch, avoid the hard sell and be genuinely interested in the people to convert long-term supporters into bequest donors.


For Ali, Jackie and Amanda, OURTEL is their first job in the virtual environment. They all favour the flexibility it provides, and Amanda believes it comes with less pressure than a traditional brick-and-mortar call centre. Bequest call times at OURTEL tend to be longer, and we place a heavy emphasis on relationship building over and above call volume.

Bequest calls can be quite emotional, and Amanda says that working in her own home helps fight stress and keeps her energy levels up after emotionally draining calls. She says that while some traditional call centres pressure tele-agents to get the money then get off the phone, OURTEL appreciates that making genuine connections with people takes time, a willingness to share personal stories, and the ability to laugh and cry with each other. She also believes that when you’re preoccupied with a long commute, what might be going on with your kids at home, and general office politics, it’s more difficult to put your whole focus on the person on the other end of the phone.

I couldn’t agree more. Bequest campaigns are completely different to acquisitions and need total focus on the call. They require high emotional intelligence, the ability to empathise with people, and the willingness to make a personal investment in the task that runs much deeper than a pay cheque or the short- term numbers.

I believe these three qualities come with maturity and experience – both professional and in life. Traditional, office-based call centres tend to attract younger, more transient workers such as university students and backpackers, who are yet to develop the emotional intelligence required to run successful bequest campaigns.

Mature workers truly value the benefits of virtual work, such as the work flexibility that is so important for family life. OURTEL uses this virtual model to attract and retain the top talent from around Australia. And I believe that makes all the difference to the success of our bequest campaigns

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.

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