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Courtesies Boost University Campaigns

The use of e-mail has grown tremendously over the past few years, but we are still a nation of telephone users—telephones in the office, telephones in the home, cell phones in the auto, personal cell phones and beepers to let us know when someone wants to talk with us. With all of this phone mania, it's only natural that using telephones for fund raising has become a normal part of most fund-raising programs — certainly on college and university campuses, the environment in which I work.

Despite this strong orientation to telephones, we only want to talk to certain persons. Secretaries, caller-ID, and answering machines serve as barriers to keep unwanted calls from impacting our busy schedules. These screening devices protect us at home as well, shielding us from credit card marketers, salespersons, researchers and others seeking to infringe on our precious time to sell or garner useful information.

Thus, the two-edged sword of telemarketing: The technique is very useful for raising potentially large sums of money in a short period of time, especially when coupled with credit cards. On the other hand, many of our potential donors are becoming turned off with the use, or the misuse, of telephone solicitation. How many times have you answered the telephone only to be met by a brief period of silence followed by a person mispronouncing your name?

As the guest for a National Society of Fund Raising Executives chapter meeting several years ago, we invited the owner of a telemarketing firm. The question-and-answer period was rather contentious. I then took a poll. How many of the audience members utilized telemarketing to raise funds? Most. How many individuals abruptly hang up the telephone at home when a telemarketing firm is calling? At least half! And these are professionals who use telemarketing programs!

Unlike any other method of fund raising, telemarketing invades our most private domain–our home–at inconvenient times with mostly unwanted messages. Mail we can toss aside; personal visits we can control by scheduling when we want them; but the telephone rings during dinner, during the Discovery Channel program, during intimate periods.

How do we handle this quandary? Here are points to keep in mind as you enter the field of telemarketing for fund raising:

Ask yourself if telemarketing is a useful technique for raising funds by your organization. There will always be those “customers” who criticize any procedure utilized. Is the percentage low enough with telemarketing to make it useful? Are there other techniques that will raise equivalent amounts with less criticism?

Determine who will make the calls — inhouse callers or an outside contractor. On a university campus, we often use well-trained students to make the calls. Many telemarketing firms also use students, particularly graduate students, but those employees usually have an added incentive to push for a gift.

Know what callers will say. Push for the right to preview the script and to make changes. How many closes will the caller use? How forceful does the script sound?

What type of callers will be used? Many of us use students or local volunteers as callers. There are marked advantages to this approach. Our callers “sound right” to our potential donors. This means they have the general geographical dialect our constituents are used to hearing. Contract callers often have a different accent, speech pattern, or verbal speed than our constituents. This is not a critical issue when calling nationally for major organizations. It does matter more when calling in a more defined region for smaller organizations.

Courtesy is critical. Are callers polite and pleasant? How often have you been “accosted” by a belligerent caller? Organizations cannot afford to have callers use this approach and upset their potential donors.

Determine the best time to make calls. Do you call during the day, after dinner, during prime-time television, or on weekends? Most of us who use volunteers will call during the day or early evenings. Contractors may call whenever they have the workers and feel they can make a contact.

Set the stage for making telephone contacts. For most fundraising campaigns, it is extremely useful to notify the potential donor in advance that you will be calling him or her. This can most easily be accomplished with a card or letter. They will then expect your call or have an opportunity to contribute in advance — thus, avoiding the call.

If you get a machine, leave a message. Many campaigns find a large percentage of calls intercepted by answering machines. Rather than just hanging up, have your caller leave a brief message stating the reason for the call and “sorry we missed you.” This can set the stage for a subsequent mail response.

Use a mail follow-up for missed calls. This approach will get a pledge card in their hands even if you failed to connect with them on the telephone.

Know the telemarketing regulations in the areas you call. More and more states regulate telemarketing. Some states now require telemarketers to purchase lists of individuals not wishing to be called. In some cases, your organization may be liable for violating these regulations.

In summary, use callers who are cordial and have the speaking pattern your donors are comfortable with, review scripts for accuracy and aggressiveness, use mail effectively as an advanced notice and an effective follow-through device, and limit the number of attempts per potential donor to one “connect,” even if that is an answer machine.

Telemarketing is just one method of raising funds, but an effective element in a comprehensive advancement program when used in a manner that leaves the donor feeling good about the gift and the organization.

Dr. Steve W. Batson, is vice president for university relations at Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, Georgia. He is also a Certified Fund Raising Executive and the 1999 Chair-Elect of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives.


Courtesy is critical. How often have you been “accosted” by a belligerent caller? Organizations cannot afford to have callers use this approach and upset their potential donors.

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