Mounting pressure on fundraisers to increase donations and support, an increasingly competitive environment and a trending sentiment that fundraisers are too aggressive all combine to create challenges that impact the effectiveness of campaigns.

We’ve all witnessed campaigns that hit the jackpot and the message goes viral, attracting attention and donors. While viral campaigns are coveted by all, they are rare. Fundraisers need strong strategic plans that do not rely on the campaign going viral and will ensure that the funds are coming in even if the viral wave does not follow.

Phone calls can be a powerful tactic for fundraising. However, they have come under scrutiny lately and are often being perceived as telemarketing, distractions and even harassment rather than a friendly ask to support a great cause.

The use of aggressive tactics needed to meet fundraising goals has created this perception. Yet, most organizations can’t afford to give up calling potential donors, simply because they can’t sustain the loss of donations. As with most problems, some creativity can go a long way towards finding a solution.

What if fundraisers introduced data into the mix? What if they were able to gather reliable and precise data on what is going on during the call and who the caller is? All of the planning and follow up for calls would be based off data and not guesswork. It may take a little more work in the beginning, but truly understanding a call and changing your strategy as a result will pay later in greater efficiency and a more donor-centric ask which should result in a positive outcome.

There are three tools that are being used by many large companies for call analytics that also have a lot to offer fundraisers: conversation analysis, rich donor profiles and automated texting.

Just a quick aside, these tools are offered by call analytics (call tracking) companies such as Telmetrics, Marchex and Invoca. These companies started out offering call tracking numbers that can link an ad or campaign to a phone call. It’s often used in marketing and sales to know how many calls are being generated by an ad, so that they can understand the full impact of their advertising budget.

While call analytics used to be just about call tracking, recent innovations in technology have changed the products offered by call analytics companies, opening them up to broader applications. One of these innovations was responsible for automating call scoring, making it more affordable and accurate. As a result, call scoring is more in reach for organizations with a limited budget for operations.

Tip #1: Use conversation analysis technology to make a donor-centric ask

Conversation analysis provides fundraisers with the opportunity to know exactly what is happening on a call, allowing them to evaluate the script for appropriate and effective behaviour of their representative.

First the call is recorded using dual channel (stereo) technology. Before a call can be interpreted, the recording is transcribed using speech recognition technology. Finally, algorithms interpret the conversation according to a predetermined set of criteria. Human interpreters used to be responsible for listening to and analyzing the call, but now almost all steps are automated, making it a more affordable tool.

Interpreting a call simply means looking for an outcome that is set by the organization ahead of time. It could be anything from knowing which conversations resulted in a donation to flagging certain potential donors as likely to donate or an improperly handled call. This flexibility helps the organization to measure performance of their representatives beyond the very black and white: donation = success and everything else is failure.

Call scoring allows goodwill and donor-centric asks to be measurable goals of a charitable organization

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. If a representative is spreading a lot of positive sentiment about the organization, while it may not result in a donation now, it may prevent the perception that the charity is harassing or pressuring people for money. A more nuanced measure of success may help to boost the representatives’ morale and to align fundraising tactics with the message of all charities—to make the world a better place.

The recordings can also be used as a training method—not as a way to monitor and punish, but by providing concrete examples of successful tactics and wordings that get results. What words do the top performers use repeatedly? Are they better able to personalize and warm up the caller through targeted conversations? Are the representatives even staying on script? What is the reaction to the organization and does that mesh well with the scripts and the way the charity sees itself? Finally, are the scripts we are using effective and what can we do to improve them?

Tip #2: Know more about the potential donor to target the ask ethically and precisely

Conversation analysis is just one source of data for fundraisers. Rich donor data is another that can help organizations improve their reputation while meeting their goals.

Rich donor data is collected and aggregated from databases of publicly available information such as demographics, location and personal details, and can include credit score, income, home ownership vs. rental, whether they have pets and more. All the information is publicly available online and is collected through channels available to everyone. When a representative phones a potential donor, a rich donor profile with that information pops up on the screen. The information about the donor can help the representative to personalize their ask and match the ask to the potential donor’s capacity to give.

Rich data is often combined with predictive analytics to better understand the likelihood that the person will donate. If 60% of people who have a similar profile are frequent donors, it may be beneficial to take a more assertive stance than with a person whose profile indicates that they have a low likelihood of donating. The opposite is also true—asking more from a vulnerable person may help to meet fundraising goals but may not be the most ethical choice.

Tip #3: Text messaging can help donor satisfaction

The phone is becoming so much more than a phone. Like tablets, a cell phone is now a device for checking emails, posting to social media, reading websites and more. Before making a donation, 60% of donors researched the organization online and gave an average of $139 online. Charitable organizations need to adapt to these new channels or risk losing out.

One of the ways they can adapt is by using text messages as a key cultivator of donor satisfaction. While the text message channel currently accounts for only a small portion of total donations (just eight per cent of donors currently use this channel, according to a study by Blackbaud), text messages are actually a more effective way of communicating with a donor than email, as 90% of text reminders are read within three minutes of opening. That means a short thank you text message and a link to a website with information on how their donation is being used will, first of all, be read. And second, express thanks in a meaningful way.

Text messaging can now be automated and linked to most forms of donation, whether it be online, through the phone or at the checkout. Gathering mobile phone numbers should be a priority for most charitable organizations. With a mobile adoption rate of 96% in the U.S., mobile phone numbers are quickly becoming the most reliable way of keeping up-to-date information on donors and maintaining relationships.

All three of these tools speak to the importance of properly collecting data on potential donors and knowing how to make use of it. Data may not seem like it is the place where the heart—the character and values—of an organization or charity can speak, but information on donors is the story of a community creating positive change and is the lifeblood of an organization.

Data in concert with smart use of innovative tools can bring usable insights on the way the charity is perceived by donors and how to better cultivate that relationship for the future. In an environment where the number of charitable organizations is increasing but where the donations have held at two per cent of income for the past 40 years, the organizations that use data will attract the most and largest donations with the most efficient practices.


This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Jenn Horowitz

For 15+ years Jenn Horowitz has created and executed strategic lead generation campaigns, brand creation and conversion optimization.  At Telmetrics we interpret data that goes beyond the click, to phone calls, text messages and chat. Creating actionable insights from data analysis helps customers gain a competitive edge and increase revenue.

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