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Nonprofit First Responders

By Randall Anderson - March 14, 2014

Everyone understands how critical it is to have the best trained and dedicated first responder for a 9-1-1 emergency call. It is also critical for the agent (responder) to optimize a call during the short exposure to a potential donor. The effective use of this limited time is crucial. The training must focus on how to make the responder more productive.

Here are some of the “what” and “how” of telefundraising training from an inbound call perspective. The emphasis must be on training because you want to transform every transaction into fulfilling a cause. Training is the key to success.

There are four basic elements to training responders:

A. Written tests, which include knowl­edge and retention of competitors, scripting, etc.

B. Observation, which involves taking practice calls and receiving personal coaching;

C. Verification, which includes skills, knowledge, empathy, convincing, and all items that need to be checked off by a certified trainer; and,

D. Perhaps the most overlooked is the relationship between the telefundraiser and the nonprofit. There cannot be a discussion on training without taking this relationship into consideration. The relationship is the training.

Three critical points of the telefundraiser/nonprofit relationship that impact education, training and testing are:

Point 1. Make the responder a stake­holder: You need to speak not only with management but also directly with the supervisors and responders. Communicating the mission, purpose and campaign appeal to the people who are talking to your donors in a way that they can understand is crucial.  If the responder behaves like a stakeholder you will not only have a successful campaign but a wealth of information on your donor.

Point 2. Analyze the data: The telefundraiser should be a value center for knowledge. You should ensure that they have a process to capture donor insights, trends, and other information that key nonprofit executives should know. The Quality Assurance (QA) department monitors the calls so that both the telefundraiser and nonprofit managers know what is happening with the donors at all times.

Point 3. Calibrate regularly: The cam­paign should always be open to recalibration relative to feedback and monitoring results. The telefundraiser and nonprofit managers might need to fine-tune the training as a result. Each point creates another opportunity to transform a caller to a donor.

Most of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) reflect upon the need to predict donor questions, which are the basis of the training. Once you identify these questions, you can train for them.

Common questions include mission of the organization, percent of funds going to administration, locations served, and celebrity-related endorsement. Customer service calls can be the most challenging, but even they can offer the greatest opportunity to make a caller a donor.

Inbound telefundraising is unique because the caller is not attempting to purchase a product or a service. The caller is responding to an appeal. The responder must be able to satisfy each inquiry. This makes training about the nonprofit so vital. Further, the responder has to control the conversation satisfying the donor’s curiosity. The responder must simultaneously adhere to the guidelines while protecting all elements of the brand.

Some campaigns are risk inherent (e.g., pet abuse calls for pet protection nonprofits or emotional calls tied to advocacy campaigns). Therefore, training must be adjusted accordingly. The telefundraiser is hiring and training based on proven profiles for responders doing nonprofit work and should be using a combination of software and test assessments.

The nonprofit’s rules and goals should be clear. Nonprofit managers should see all of the action steps involved in the training of the responder:

  • Testing for knowledge of the nonprofit campaign;
  • Testing for the right agent profile;
  • Interview questions, personality and characteristic profiling;
  • Re-verification of skills and proven process understanding (at least annually);
  • Usage of Web-based platforms that screen for skills;
  • Constant monitoring, test calls and updating as required; and,
  • Use a certified trainer to sign off on skill sets, test calls and nonprofit orientation.

Once nonprofit managers and telefundraiser come to an understanding of what the training is and how it will work, this becomes the foundation of the relationship.

First responders prepare for emergencies like nonprofit responders prepare for a call. Each type of responder relies on training and experience to handle the challenge successfully. What makes the difference between good or great results for the responder in a fundraising campaign is the degree to which the telefundraiser and nonprofit managers collaborated. What makes the best outcome for the donor is the how the responder utilized the training. NPT

Randall Anderson is chief operating officer of Listen Up Español in Portland, Maine. His email is


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