The First 30 Seconds

September 15, 2011       Rick Christ      

Telephone calls to lapsed donors can bring them back. Calls to brand new donors, especially online donors, can turn a drive-by donor into a second-time giver, or even a monthly donor. In fact, it’s more profitable to call new online donors and ask for a monthly gift, than it is to send them another email.

And, while the first 30 seconds are key to the success of the call, the typical telemarketer wins or loses in the first five seconds.

“Hello. My name is Joe Smith, and Mary Jones, the Executive Director of XYZ Organization, asked me to call and to thank you for your recent gift.” Five seconds.

Don’t rush the intro. It’s the most important part of the call. It spells the difference between a telemarketing call and a phone conversation with your donor’s favorite charity. If you don’t treat your name and the name of the organization for which you’re calling as if they are important, then the recipient of the call won’t treat the call as important. Mumbling the intro is a sure way to end the call early.

Use the name of the person who signs the fundraising letters and emails. That name is the one who provided enough credibility to generate the last gift. Using that name will make the call a personal one, with you as the assistant. In this case, you’re part of the team, and not a flunky telemarketer.

Explain the reason for the call. Thanking them for a gift is a great reason to call. Asking them for their opinion is another. Asking them, “How are you doing this evening?,” is a great way to signal that you’re reading from a script. No one wants to tell you how they are doing. Everyone realizes it as the cheapest possible technique. Instead, give them some information they don’t already have about the issues your nonprofit covers. Tell them you need their opinion on which issue is most important.

Sometimes the simplest reason is to thank them for their gift. Look at this true example of a fundraising agency for a political nonprofit. Instead of telemarketers, the firm referred to its agents as political activists who called their colleagues. The agents would make calls to recent donors whose gifts were above a certain threshold. Agents would get the information of the gifts processed each day, including, where possible, a phone number.

The calls started just as written above. An agent would say, “Mr. X asked me not to leave tonight until I called to thank you for the very generous gift that we just received. You’ll get a formal thank-you and tax receipt in the mail, but he was very clear that you should be thanked today.” Every word was true, even if agents made it sound a little more personal and urgent than the process memo indicated.

Engage the recipient. A college fraternity recently made calls asking, “Do you still stay in touch with your brothers from the University of Arizona?” They had a ready response or next question regardless of whether the answer was “yes” or “no.”

The best way to start a call is by engaging them in conversation. When making thank-you calls for the political client, agents said, “Now that I’ve given Mr. X’s message to you, is there anything you’d like me to say to him?” They listen to the caller and scribble notes on what they said. Usually there were words of encouragement, but sometimes there were particular issues the callers wanted to bring up. Notes were turned over to a copywriter, without any personal information on the source. The copywriter appreciated knowing what the donors were saying and how they were saying it.

If you put more emphasis on the first 30 seconds of the call than on the last 30 seconds, you’ll find that:

• The first 30 seconds are NOT the last 30 seconds;

• You’ll enjoy the telemarketing process more; and,

• You will increase the number of donors who give again, and who give via a second channel – in this case, phone. NPT

Rick Christ is a contributing editor of The NonProfit Times and is vice president of Amergent, a direct response fundraising agency in Peabody, Mass. His email is rchrist@amergent.com

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