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Telephone Donation Solicitations, The Right Way or The Wrong Way

This week I received a call from a breast cancer charity. The organization was new to me. And clearly I was an unknown to them as well.

Within the first fifteen seconds, the professional paid solicitor asked if I would make a pledge. She said that they would follow up with a pledge card so I could send in my donation. Since I wasn’t prepared to make a commitment without knowing more about the organization, I suggested that they send me the information so I could give it some consideration.

So what happened? I was informed that they would not send information unless I made a pledge.

That’s right. To learn more, I would need to give. I had to conform to their rules or I couldn’t give. Take that!

One thing is certain: This paid solicitation firm is highly efficient. They were “churning and burning,” as the sales people say, or cold calling and pitching within seconds, then politely tossing away any lead that wasn’t an immediate close.

Of course, this is the worst kind of selling. Why?

1) It only works with low-level donations, which means you lose most or all of the best long-term donor prospects.

2) It relies entirely on identification with the cause and not the organization, which means you fail to establish any bond that might result in continued giving to the organization if someone agrees to give.

3) It is entirely organization-centered, giving little or no concern to the prospective donor and therefore potentially leaving a negative impression…if in fact it leaves any impression at all.

How could this be better and still efficient? By asking a series of triage questions, noting the responses in the calling software and acting according to those preferences. These steps would be as important to a museum or a blood bank as to a breast cancer charity and could include the following:

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is this cause to you?
  • Are you familiar with this organization?
  • Do you support other similar organizations? (And, if so, who?)
  • How would you prefer to donate to us?
  • How and when would you like to be contacted by us in the future?

What these questions lack in efficiency they make up for in showing a genuine interest in the prospective contributor, determining interest in the cause and organization, gathering important information for future contacts and establishing preferences for follow up cultivation and solicitation.

For many donors, “no” could easily mean “not now” or “not this way.” For this organization and their professional phone solicitor, “not now” means “never.”

This is just one more for the growing mountain of stories I hear every day as people grow weary of what is delivered in the mailbox, what passes for charitable solicitation on the phone, what is “blasted” into our increasingly ignored email accounts and what flows through our twitter stream. They all have one thing in common: They treat prospective donors all as expendable. They say give because the organization has a need. But of course that’s not why people give at all.

Why do we give? We give because it makes OUR lives meaningful.

When a charity calls and says “my way or the highway” they are really saying they couldn’t care less about our feelings. If they are going to take that tactic, best that they not bother asking at all.

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