How NOT to telemarket

Lots of nonprofits telemarket to persuade donors to give. They can, because the do-not-call laws don’t apply to them. But even so, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

I received a phone call a few days ago from a nonprofit I support. Without naming names, it’s a well-known civil liberties charity. The guy on the other end of the phone introduced himself politely and explained why he was calling. He went into his rap about what the charity does and why it needs donor support.

I told him that I was in full support of the charity’s mission but that I preferred to be contacted only by mail. I was expressing a clear preference.

The caller acknowledged my preference – which is good. But he didn’t honor it – which is very bad. He could have reassured me that future contact would be by mail, politely thanked me for my time, and hung up. Instead, he decided to see this situation as what’s euphemistically called a “service-recovery opportunity.”

He launched into a lecture about how vital donor support is to keep the work of the charity going. This went on for some minutes. After which, he asked me to make a donation now over the phone and then sign on to become a sustaining member with monthly contributions from my credit card.

I again reiterated my preference for contact by mail.

Undaunted, he took a fall-back position. After another dissertation about the need for donors to pony up, he asked for a single donation now over the phone.

Finally, getting frustrated, I told him that I supported charity’s mission but wanted to be contacted only by mail, and bid him a hasty goodbye. The lasting impression from having been worked over like that for a donations was, “can you believe that guy?”

Not the impression any nonprofit would want to create. Telemarketing is a fundraising channel that’s supposed to complement other channels like direct mail and email. Telemarketing like this doesn’t compliment other channels – it harms them.

When I’m contacted by that organization in the future, instead of thinking kindly about them, I’m going to hesitate. That hesitation – even if it’s only for a moment – is deadly for fundraisers. That hesitation could spell the difference between meeting a budget goal and falling short. It’s vital to eliminate it, because as fundraisers, that fleeting moment of decision – or indecision – is all that we get. We have to make the most of it.

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