Profitable solicitations Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

Most business leaders devote some of their personal time to work with charitable groups, industry associations or their favorite political party. In many cases, the group’s activity includes soliciting people, either for financial or voting support. At this time of year, the phone seems to ring off the hook with political candidates’ prere-corded messages. Meantime, charities need to replenish their donor lists. Boards of directors at nonprofits should be consulted for guidance on phone solicitation practices.

“Generally, charities and political groups are exempt from the Do Not Call list provisos,” says Steve Boyazis, executive vice president at InfoCision Management Corp.

Smart Business spoke with Boyazis about nonprofit organizations and their phone solicitation practices.

Are all nonprofits and political groups exempt from Do Not Call (DNC) restrictions?

Most nonprofit and political organizations are exempt from the DNC restrictions. However, they are required to keep an organization-specific DNC list. If a client says that they no longer want to be called by that specific foundation, it must honor that request. So it is very important to handle each and every phone number as a long-term resource.

How should a company manage outbound expectations?

We’ve all had that situation where we get home and someone has left 20 hang-ups on our answering machine. That is certainly one way to reach people, but it is also a sure-fire way to get people to ask you not to call them back. Any outbound calling strategy just needs to be examined from the client’s perspective. It makes sense to call clients when they want to be called, make your presentation quickly and enthusiastically when you get a hold of someone, and treat his or her time as valuable. We found, time and again, that after 10 attempts or so, we basically have gotten more than 95 percent of the donations you can gather from the prospect list. Calling more often leads to a dissatisfied customer and wasted resources on the charity’s end.

From the economic viewpoint, are there certain times when it does not make sense to make outbound solicitation calls?

There’s really no right answer because if you call too much you run the risk of alienating your donor base. If you don’t call enough, you could lose the public’s affinity to your organization and what you do. In a perfect world you’d have a way to touch the donor every six to eight weeks or so — but not always with a gift request.

Sometimes, it pays to provide them with a data-rich direct-mail piece that helps explain what your organization is doing and current challenges. Other times, it may be with a quick thank-you call or e-mail. Then you mix in a request for people to get personally involved. A well-balanced multimedia campaign that is tied to current events and what is going on in the world is ultimately what builds the strongest relationships. There is really no simple, prescriptive plan you can follow.

Should DNC preferences ever be ignored?

It is absolutely OK to make fundraising calls for nonprofit organizations, but the key is understanding the full body of commercial regulations and their intent because much of it is founded in just good customer service practice. For instance, if a specific region of the country is in the midst of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, it doesn’t make sense to call in to that area. Our research shows there are specific times when people are more likely to pick up the phone, so you don’t want to make calls when they are not likely to answer.

Ultimately, the message here is all the same: You need a thoughtful, planned approach to prospecting and cultivating your clients. Just because the DNC regulations are less restrictive for nonprofits, doesn’t mean it makes good business sense to do whatever you want.

What is a good outbound-call template for a nonprofit or political group to follow?

A good call is one where you get a ‘No, thanks’ quickly if you are going to get it; and, when you get a ‘Yes,’ it comes with some real buy in. That means that the caller has made a connection on the topic at hand. You can do that by building from personal experience, reminding them why they’ve given in the past, letting them know that there is a tipping point soon to come that will help us find a cure, pass a law, explaining all the good that has come from their donations in the past or whatever. The key is all about building a relationship. When you build that with consistency over multiple calls and different media you have a much better long-term connection. So a good call flow is to start by understanding why the prospect supports the issue and quickly funneling that down to a specific and timely need to give.

STEVE BOYAZIS is the executive vice president at InfoCision Management Corp. Reach him at Steve.boyazis@infocision.com or (330) 670-5877.