Listen up, fundraisers

Please believe Your Working Girl when she says from the bottom of her heart that she is not trying to tell you what to do. She doesn’t give out fundraising tips anymore.

She finds there are enough fundraising how-to books in print to choke a horse. In them, you will find the latest instructions on how to acquire and “steward” donors. There are an equivalent number of CRFEs (Certified Fund Raising Executives) to tell you whether or not you can accept that bottle of wine from the gentleman who volunteered at your Bingo. Plus, annual congresses bring together the best and the brightest talent in the world for your learning pleasure. She knows you have it covered.

On balance, she finds an organization that tries to do big things is the one that raises big money, and that the doing of those big things is strictly outside the wheelhouse of the fundraiser anyway. Our job is simply to put fuel into the engine.

Yet, she is baffled.

Not two seconds ago, she put down the phone. The call was from a well-known international human rights organization and it was not for her. It was for a young man of her acquaintance, a civic minded young man who has been giving $15 a month to the well known international human rights group since Grade 11. He’s since graduated college and now, it seems, he is a lapsed monthly donor. The well-known international human rights organization has called five times in the last week or so and, being in between campaigns, YWG has been home to take the call.

All five times, she’s asked to take a message and for a number so the young man could call them back. All five times, they said there was no number to leave and they would try him again. Just now, she repeated the same message, but then had to ask the caller how in heaven’s name did they ever expect to reach the young man if they wouldn’t leave a message or a number he could call. She allowed that even she could not accomplish such a feat and she had the benefit of moral sway over the individual in question.

And there in lies the bafflement.

Your Working Girl has seen the fundraising books that yammer on about the “critical importance” of “donor stewardship,” especially for those “valuable” monthly donors. She’s walked down the hallways of conferences where fundraisers, some from this very well-known international human rights organization, wax eloquently about percentages of donor “retention” and teaching other fundraisers how it’s done.

But how about being able to leave a message so someone can call you back? Is that covered in the CFRE exam, in seminars on “donor stewardship” or “relationship fundraising?”

Is everyone losing their minds as well as their donors?

Your Working Girl allows the “just keeping calling” strategy might be working in a way that is not immediately apparent.

And although she thinks it might be more fruitful to be able to leave a message, maybe there is a complex calculation at play, one that is beyond her comprehension. Maybe when you factor in the number of calls to reach a donor, divided by the life-time value of a donor, multiplied by the average monthly gift, divided by the number of months on the donor base, minus the net net expenses over 28 months, it all adds up somehow.

If so, Your Working Girl looks forward to the next workshop on the topic. Perhaps it will be called Pissing into the Wind.

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  1. Another fantastic entry! I’ve done a few year of fundaraising and I used to feel just awful that we couldn’t leave messages for the donors. The reasoning behind this was that all of the places I’ve done telefundraising in have been outbound call centres only. There would be the odd person who calls back, but it was mostly because they were curious about who called them. The other reason seems to be that there are many donors who don’t want their spouses or family members to know which causes they are secretly supporting, or to what extent. So as a rep on whichever organization I’m calling on behalf of at the moment, I’m expected to maintain an air of confidentiality about it. How strict that is will vary depending on each foundation. Auto-dialers are also to blame for frequent calls (so sorry!) and each fundraising company has different strategies for how to time the callbacks so that we are not annoying donors too much. Outbound calls seem to be effective, the thing nowadays is to convert one time or lapsed donors into monthly-doners. I was quite good at that without being pushy, what worked for me was gently explaining why we’re asking at this time, acknowledging each of their reservations and going through my spiel. If people call in, i wouldnt be able to go through my script which is written to be effective, and to let me take the lead so that instead of hoping that the donor will sponsor 1 child, they may want to sponser 2-5. Hope that lends a bit of clarity from the call centre rep end of things. I look forward to reading more of your well-written posts. Cheers 🙂

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