The reality of telephone fundraising or maybe nonprofits in general

I was a bit upset yesterday when I received a call from one of the major international non-profits I happen to support on a regular basis. Sitting in the morning #ihavenocluewhatIamdoinghere state, over my finally prepared first mug of coffee, I really struggled to remain patient with my son’s usual, extremely vocal happiness (I know, I am terrible, but with dysfunctioning sinuses and lack of sleep I can be a monster), not mentioning the fact he decided to cheer me up and play some Regina Spector on iPad, shuffling the songs randomly. Now, this is when I was called and expected to remain calm…

See, trouble is:

1. I worked on a customer service phone line so I have a slight idea about the manners, training, methods etc – my expectations are high.

2. I work in the non-profit sector, with a telephone fundraising company as a sister business – so my expectations are even higher.

3. I am a linguist who follows the “I mean what I say” rule – so my expectations are endless. I simply want people to listen!

The lady who called me started with a usual greeting, though I disturbed her clarifying I am not up for donations call. (in English: I do not want to talk about money), and moved on quickly from promised thank you message to suggestions on how my additional 10GBP could help. When asked not to talk about the money again, she lowered the sum to 5. When I asked her again to remember the beginning of our call, she mentioned only 1 GBP’s worth of a difference I can make. I told her, that she started to upset me. She apologised. I am sure she and her management think she was great! The whole call left me upset (in the first place), completely unappreciated (secondly) and extremely sad (till now). Let’s put aside the whole idea of me helping already – ok, I know, there is always more work to be done and I do agree. But I felt stupid – did I not make myself clear? It’s Sunday morning, I am tired and a bit impatient, so I am trying to handle the call the best possible way and I fail all the way along. Paradox Or maybe the reality of modern conversations? Yes, I do think about it a lot because of my job, but not business-wise at all. I am fascinated with the idea of nonintrusive, extremely sophisticated understanding of relationship in the last, genuine way that the social media has given back to us. Finally, we are able to converse, to read each other’s needs and work out the ways to achieve goals while making the others happy. Is it not possible on the phone?

I am not sure. Was the lady a victim of the training or the KPI’s she needs to meet? Was she a victim of the contemporary education which does not seem to allow creativity or thinking outside of the box? Because – despite occasional criticism of nonprofit sector – I still see the value in the marketing and sales for non-profits. I actually think we should start talking more about the ways nonprofits make and handle the money with nonprofits, than with their donors and supporters. I just think that if at all, it needs to be done in an extremely smart way, because the consumers trained by huge corporations (who by the way can afford great budgets for great campaigns, though many still get it wrong) will and do expect more. I feel sad. The call has not affected my feelings towards the brand, I remain loyal due to its strong tradition – lucky, heh? I might not do it with the next non-profit, so if they happen to read it, please brief your staff to call me wisely;) Simple advice: listen to me, appreciate my work so far and offer something better, because if you talk to me this way I feel I am to do all the work and it will still not be enough:( It’s all a question of balance, sanity and human touch – forget the system, forget the processes, simply talk to me, like a human. If we are not able to turn around this ‘development process’, get back to the roots of successful, meaningful and well…respectful conversations in all areas of our life, then we are doomed.



  • Andrew Stretton

    Interesting, this approach is something I’ve kind of expected over the years and hence have been quite uninterested in taking calls from charities. The times when this hasn’t been the case have been quite refreshing.For instance, when we went to WOMAD festival last year, as far as I can see the charities were banned from soliciting donations on the day. The could only talk to people and grow their email lists etc. This meant that I could happily talk to lots of people and learn a lot more about different charities without fear of an awkward moment with a direct debit form. Whilst I haven’t committed to any of these charities yet, they have begun a dialogue, increased my awareness, got me to get my news from sources which have fewer biases and changed my opinions on certain issues. All of these things have contributed to my likelihood of donating in the future. Non of them are measurable returns on investment for the charities involved EXCEPT if they are listening to this…

  • Sylwia Presley

    Your are mentioning a great example of how things could work better:) It’s interesting times really – you and I know that if anything, you CAN measure the on-line relationships, so maybe nonprofits will pick it up and work out the ways to track it back to donations, no? Once again I feel the need to simplify the process…and good internal comm’s.

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