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Countless charities state “We would never call our supporters at home.”

The perception is that “tele-fundraising” is just a polite way to say “tele-marketing” and calling your supporters at home, to ask for donations, will do nothing except create negative feelings and upset supporters.

The reality is: nothing could be further from the truth.

Many small and large, for profit, companies use the phone to generate leads, drive sales or up-sell current customers. For the most part, in these programs the name of the game is: volume. When you make enough phone calls and create a positive donor experience, a percentage will say yes.

If executed properly, not only can tele-fundraising develop substantial revenue but it can be an interactive, two-way conversation with a supporter, that helps foster an extended relationship and goodwill.

Not only is a “tele-fundraising” call a chance to ask for a donation but it’s the perfect opportunity to use the call to thank donors for previous gifts and share with them some of the accomplishments that have happened, thanks to their support.

Donors love to hear and talk about the foundation or cause they are passionate about and hearing a live voice, sincerely say, “Thank You” has a profound impact.

In today’s competitive fundraising world, using the phone as a source of revenue and stewardship has never been more useful.


When many people hear the word tele-marketing, the first impression that comes to mind is: the annoying call in the middle of supper by a caller who mangles your name and then moves into an aggressive sales pitch about something you have no need or interest. What makes these calls even more irritating is that the tele-marketer never seems to listen to anything you have to say. The downfall for many tele-marketing campaigns is that the phone, a channel which allows for two-way conversations, is turned into a one-way communication channel by an overzealous or aggressive tele-marketer.

Driven exclusively by sales, commission’s or contacts per hour, many tele-marketers could care less about what they are selling or to whom they are selling it. Many tele-marketers are trained to NOT listen, and never take NO for an answer. It is these types of tele-marketing calls that has led to the negative perception of this method of fundraising and has played a large part in the creation of, and the public’s desire for, the National Do-Not-Call registry.

Why would a charity want to be associated with this type of activity?

It provides a great opportunity to have a real-time, two way conversation. In recent years, the internet, e-mail and texting have grown in popularity but it is still the personal touch and ability to connect via real conversation that keeps the phone an irreplaceable part our society.

Aggressive and poorly designed tele-marketing campaigns that this medium have helped create the negative perception of tele- fundraising. However, the telephone continues to offer its users a two-way conversation. That is precisely why it is an effective tool for fundraising.

An overwhelming percentage of donors give from the heart. Supporters to charities give because they want to support a cause or situation they personally believe in and they are even more likely to give when they can trust or relate to the person making “the ask.”

Some of the most effective direct mail fundraising appeals share a personal story. These stories touch our hearts, evoke sympathy and help supporters reinforce why they believe in and support that charity. This is exactly what the phone allows you do to do with each call — its one person speaking directly to another person and sharing a story. What’s more, there is nothing that goes further to help a supporter feel valued and appreciated by the charity they support, than to have a live, friendly voice call them and thank them for their support.

It is the personal and immediate interaction of the phone which engages supporters. It’s no secret that people love to talk about what’s important to them. People often become even more connected with their charity of choice when they find someone else who shares their feelings or is eager to listen.

When a donor receives a call on behalf of a cause in which they believe in, and the call always begins with “thank you for your past support” and then engages the supporter with a current need of the organization. This is why a properly executed tele-fundraising program works, and why, when effectively managed, it does not create negative donor pushback.

When when the phone is used to call a supporter and the call engages the individual in a two-way conversation about a cause they are passionate about, the phone works. Take the example of calling existing monthly supporters to ask them to increase their regular support. For many organizations, there are very few supporters more committed to a cause than those who donate automatically every month.

When the phone is used as a way to reach out to these individuals, thank them for their support and explain how their financial assistance has made a difference, between 20%-30% of those contacted will increase their monthly gift during the call. The same can be said for lapsed and inactive donors as when they are called, with the same approach, between 10%-20% of these former donors will renew their support. Both of these campaigns demonstrate that supporters really do not mind being called about something that is important to them.

In addition to supporters welcoming the opportunity to talk about their favourite charity, the advantage of the phone for fundraising is even greater because of the phone’s ability to allow two-way communication. This makes it the ideal tool when asking a supporter to change their giving behaviours, like moving from a one-time-gift donor to join a monthly support program or asking lapsed & inactive supporters to renew their support. These are the types of changes in a supporters’ giving behavior that rarely happen without a two-way dialogue. A good tele-fundraiser will use the phone’s ability to have a two-way conversation and get to the heart of the need, educate and inform the donor.


Calling your lapsed and inactive supporters is cost effective, reduces database attrition and can lead to substantial revenues.

Acquiring new donors thru the mail has become more costly and keeping supporters active and loyal has become more challenging. Mailing is expensive, and today, without a comprehensive stewardship program, renewal rates and gift frequencies can drop dramatically. Although using the mail for donor acquisition and retention is still an effective channel and can deliver a strong multiyear ROI, when it is used in tandem with the phone, response rates and revenues can rise.

Lapsed & Inactive Supporters

The majority of lapsed and inactive supporters maintain their affinity or belief in the organization and continue to support its goals and objectives; however, yet they have stopped making gifts. These supporters may have stopped giving as a result of a change in their situation or employment, or may have simply forgotten to send back the response form. The fact remains that the majority of these former supporters are still believers and many will give again – they just need the extra ask!

Some may renew their support in response to a mail appeal; however, not everyone responds to the mail or finds this their preferred channel. You may be communicating with a number of supporters who are willing to make a gift, but people are busy, forget and with demands from work and family, returning a reply form or taking the time to go to a web site is not always a top priority.

The more time that passes from a supporter’s last gift, the more expensive it is to re-activate them and the longer they are inactive, they become just as costly as acquiring a new donor. In fact, for each year a supporter falls further into a lapsed or inactive file, the cost to reactivate them can double. The key is to be pro-active and re-activate as many former supporters as soon as possible. This is where telefundraising is successful. We call lapsed and inactive supporters who have not responded to recent mail appeals. Calling these supporters after they have not responded to a mail appeal and providing one-2-one interaction and pro-active approach often results in a reactivated donor. The phone is a channel that appeals to many donors.

In fact, the cost to re-activate lapsed and inactive supporters over the phone is routinely less than acquiring new ones through other channels. For an organization looking to maximize their donor base and number of unique donors, these segments represent some of the best investments.

So who do you call in your lapsed and inactive file?

Some organizations have thousands of lapsed and inactive donors. Although an entire supporter universe can be included in some mail appeals, a lapsed and inactive tele-fundraising program needs to have its data segmented and calling approach systematic to have the best value.

Lapsed and inactive supporters should be segmented by:

The year of their last gift
The GROSS and NET cost to re-activate, by phone, tracked independently
These programs should start with the most recently lapsed supporters and then work their way back
The GROSS and NET cost to re-activate older lists
Comparison with historical costs to acquire/re-acquire a supporter through the mail.

With both of these numbers in hand, an organization can then allocate its available budget across both channels to find the best mix that optimizes the number of total respondents.

The final key to success for a lapsed and inactive telephone program is:

Ensure the messaging in the call highlights the immediate importance for the former donor to renew their support.
Create a message for this type of program to remind the supporter why they became a donor in the first place
Stress to them how important renewing their support, at this time is, and how it can make a huge difference.
Lapsed and inactive supporters are a profitable segment to contact by phone.
Lapsed and inactive tele-fundraising programs are rarely immediate revenue generators, their long term value and the return on investment is very strong.


Using the phone to turn current supporters into monthly donors has proven to be one of the most effective channels for this type activity. Monthly supporters are some of the most loyal and profitable donors for many organizations. Once a part of a monthly program, and ensuring regular stewardship, the majority of these donors stay active for 5 to 7 years or even longer, many increasing their monthly gift amount on a regular basis, and even making special One-Time Gifts on top of their monthly support. The biggest challenge is in motivating them to make that first step and agree to be a monthly donor.

The first step:

Is ensuring you are talking to the right donors. The natural assumption is that 2 or 3+ year consecutive donors, who make multiple gifts, are the best group to contact. Although these segments can provide some good results, the best prospects to join a monthly support program are “New to file” or “Newly Reactivated” donors.

At this point the difficult task of getting these supporters to make that very first direct response gift was a success. Many of these donors will give again without hesitation and continue to make multiple gifts for a long period of time because they believe in the cause and feel they are making a difference.

Many of these supporters are already committed and planning to give again, it seems a logical conclusion to simply have these supporters become a member of a monthly sustainer program before they become accustomed to only giving by mail.

This enables the donor to have pre-authorized manageable donation amounts charged to their credit card. It seems like it’s a natural progression for a supporter to make, so why is this not an easy sell?

One of the main issues lies in the stigma many people have when they hear the term “monthly”. In North America, consumers are inundated with monthly payments charges. So when a charity contacts them and suggests becoming a monthly supporter, many loyal donors, who are already planning to continue their support, quickly make the association with all their other monthly payments and develop an aversion to anything with the word “monthly” in the title.

The key to overcoming this mindset is to promote the benefits and advantages of a monthly supporter AND distance a monthly donation or monthly support program from all the other types of monthly obligations the prospect may have.

The focus of a monthly conversion ask needs to move away from focusing on how a monthly program has low monthly donations and emphasize how switching to a monthly program allows the same donation amount to have a greater impact.

The monthly support program needs to be positioned as a “different or better way of showing your support”. Supporters and donors give from the heart, not because of facts, figures and statistics. Although it is important to mention that monthly gifts are meant to be small and manageable, the vast majority of donors want to understand the impact the monthly support will have for the cause they support.

It is essential to ensure a supporter understands that with a monthly donation program they are always in complete control. Explaining that the donations can be changed, lowered or stopped at any time is vital. Making sure a supporter understands this unique trait of the program goes a long way in helping them to feel more comfortable and helps make it easier to make that first step.

The vast majority of monthly supporters, acquired through the phone, stay as an active supporter for many years, so only a small number actually cancel their support, but just knowing they have that option, and that they are empowered, helps supporters feel more comfortable with this method of giving.

The last key to success for a monthly conversion program is to promote the monthly support as easy and convenient, because the donations are pre-authorized. Many donors have busy lives and responding to a pledge is not always their first priority. Many supporters are attracted to a monthly program because the pre-authorized donations mean they can give automatically, with no need to remember to mail anything in or write a cheque. In today’s fast paced world, making something easier and more convenient is always an advantage.

The long term value and ROI of a telephone monthly conversion program makes it one of the most profitable ways to use the phone. It is crucial to ensure you have the right approach, because each new monthly donor adds a tremendous value to your direct response program.