Putting That Spark In Your Script

“Mr. Jones, your worst nightmare has come true.”

Now, that’s a greeting that is bound to get your attention – and possibly keep you on the phone for 48.4 seconds longer than usual. At least that’s what the telefundraiser on the other end hopes.

In the world of Do-Not-Call registries and caller ID, telefundraising is becoming even more challenging, even though nonprofits are exempt from the federal registry and most state regulations. Once the prospect database is in perfect shape, success rates depend first and foremost on getting the right message across in a manner that’s most appealing to the potential donor – all in about 60 seconds.

“We have to be very aggressive in our scripting,” said Lance Davis, director of marketing – political for InfoCision, based in Akron, Ohio. “You’ve got to hit them with a sledgehammer in the first five seconds of the call.”

The key to avoiding the dreaded hang-up is cutting to the chase and quickly getting into the key message, Davis said. Once you do that, you have to infuse passion and emotion into the call, no matter the subject. Depending on the client or subject, that might mean using hard-hitting, inflammatory language.

John Kiminecz, director of marketing strategy for InfoCision, explained that scripts need to include some kind of shock that evokes strong emotion, whether that’s anger, pity or fear. Kiminecz said that can be done by painting a descriptive picture of the cause or situation. “We let people know what their money is being spent for. ‘Mr. Jones, if we don’t raise $185 million, children are going to starve. Mr. Jones, $10 will feed a family of five for a week. Can you feed two families of five with your $20?’” he said as an example. “We don’t spare the adjectives when painting the picture,” Kiminecz said. “An example: ‘Mr. Jones, children in Ethiopia are going out into the rain and eating cakes of mud and grass just to feel full.’ You’ve got to take 75 to 100 words and pack as much power in them as possible. But choose your words carefully. If you shock someone too much, it can work against you.”

Knowing Who You’re Calling

Of course, nothing is more important than knowing the audience you’re calling. “You could have the best hook in the world, but if you’re saying it to the wrong person, you aren’t going to be effective,” Kiminecz said. That’s why frequently testing scripts with key audiences is so important to an organization’s overall fundraising strategy. Scripts are changed daily, even hourly, to target certain donors. Good scripting finds what moves people and uses those emotions and stories to extend the call long enough to make the crucial ask.

“[That emotion] has to flow right into the ask,” Kiminecz said. “The further in the call we get, the higher the probability that that person will give.”

Nick Stavarz, president of Synergy Direct Marketing Solutions in Akron, Ohio, said scripts that work today get right to the point and don’t waste a prospective donor’s time. “Our job is to present the need in the most concise way possible.”

Stavarz said in his strategy telefundraisers typically introduce themselves quickly and get right to the heart of the message. Some clients will ask why there isn’t more time easing into the call, asking the person how they are doing that day, but Stavarz explained there’s a very short window of opportunity to capture someone’s interest.

“People are pretty savvy these days,” he said. “They know when it’s a sales call or a fundraising call.”

Even in a challenging regulatory environment, a new study by software firm Blackbaud of 785 nonprofits found 35 percent of those organizations increased their use of the telephone for solicitation during 2006 (for 50 percent there was no change, 7 percent decreased, and 8 percent responded “don’t know.”)

John Braune, president and chief executive officer of The Heritage Company in North Little Rock, Ark., said that respecting a donor’s time is vital. “We have to always remember that it is an absolute right and privilege to call into someone’s home,” he said. “We strive to be passionate, polite and positive every time we make a call.”

Braune said The Heritage Company has changed its philosophy over the years when it comes to scripting. In the past, the telefundraising industry as a whole tended to be more aggressive in its scripting with several rebuttals automatically built in. Now, Braune’s calling teams have a much softer, kinder approach, more positive and polite approach. Mike Land, vice president of business affairs for The Heritage Company who oversees the business-to-business telefundraising, said he would rather his callers have a dialogue with donors. “Yes, there are certain components of the presentation that are important, such as the impact statement and the call to action, but we’d rather do all that in a conversational manner.”

Land said it’s critical to train the call center staff on the organization’s mission so that having a conversation is easy and natural. As part of its training program, employees watch videos of clients to gain a better understanding of them and feel that emotional tie. Often, The Heritage Company finds ways for them to actually volunteer with the nonprofits and see for themselves how these organizations are changing lives.

“It’s imperative that we create a mental picture in our presentation, but it can’t be gloom and doom,” Land said. “We have to pull at their heart strings, but we have to be careful not to go too far. We want you to say, ‘Yes,’ and still feel that way when the pledge card arrives in the mail.”  NPT