The Wrong Numbers In Telephone Fundraising

I grew up in that profoundly awkward era where we all had landlines and nobody had mobile phones. When I phoned a girl I was trying to woo it was paralysingly scary – one of her parents may well have answered and I’d have to deal with that.

That was bad…but even now, where we essentially have a direct line to anyone, making that call can be terrifying. Maybe that’s why so many people try to avoid picking up the phone?

A recent study in Ireland found that only 2% of charities used the phone to fundraise. Compare that to 3.6% of charities using ‘international treks’. Some people would rather climb Kilimanjaro than pick up the phone. And haven’t we all be in the position of sending way too many e-mails back and forth rather than a quick call, simply because we couldn’t face talking to someone?

I’ve found one of the common traits of great members of staff is a willingness to pick up the phone. Seriously. If a fundraiser (or any staff member) delays and deflects that phone call then I’m sorry to say it’s probably not going to work out.

For me, nothing beats telephone. It’s relatively cheap, instantly adaptable, completely personalised, scalable, and it integrates with everything you do. It’s easy to launch and easy to stop. Anyone can do it – you don’t need an agency. Your charity should know what it’s doing with its phones (and I mean really know what it’s doing) before it touches anything else.

So, as the eloquent telephone fundraising guru Adrian Salmon once said, “Why aren’t we protecting Voice?”

“Voice”! Have you ever heard a telephone call described so wonderfully? And maybe that’s part of the problem: we think of the telephone as this lump of plastic on our desks rather then this amazing instrument that allows us to put our voice – one of our most powerful fundraising tools – in a potential donors home and head.

The truth is that we undermine phone. We prioritise digital and all these fancy new medias while we hang up the phone. Perhaps because we undermine it, in many ways we’re seeing a race to the bottom…

Lovely dedicated telephone fundraising agencies exist, but instead very often we’re seeing charities hand their calls over to sales companies with bland scripts and auto-diallers. We suck the life and love out of the calls and strip our fundraisers of their personalities. Why? A lack of trust? Because it makes the calls cheaper?

And then the smaller charities who keep their telephone work in-house very often don’t invest in training or skill. Why? Because they don’t believe in it? Is it actually only 2% of charities that use the phone to fundraise, or do they not realise that every phone call is a fundraising call?

Yes…calls to your fundraisers, calls to your volunteers, thank-you calls…they’re all fundraising calls. And every time your phone rings? That’s a fundraising call.

At the IFC in Holland I’ll be speaking about why Voice is worth saving and why there’s room to grow. I’ll be spelling out exactly what makes a good and bad fundraising call and we’ll be listening to actual samples. We’ll mystery shop some charities and I’ll tell you about the multiple times I phoned up to make a donation and was unable to do so.

You might also come to understand why I love telephone fundraising. And why so many girls have dumped me by text message.


This post is part of the 2014 IFC Series. 101fundraising is proud to be the blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress! Check out HERE when Simon is presenting at the IFC.

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