12 ways to combine Direct Mail and Telephone fundraising

telephone-dial250_2501. Thank-you phone calls. Use the phone to thank new (or renewing, or upgrading) donors as soon as possible after you receive their gifts. Time after time, tests demonstrate that organizations with the foresight to invest in kid-glove treatment of their donors are likely to receive big dividends for years to come: higher renewal rates, larger gifts, and higher rates of donor retention. 2. High-Dollar lead letter plus phone call. Send a “lead letter” – one that doesn’t ask for money; the lead letter states the case and promises a phone call. Or you might promise donors you won’t call if you receive a gift before a certain date. (In a small-donor variation, you might send a postcard instead of a letter.) Most of the time, these and other combinations of phone and mail fundraising efforts yield greater net revenue than the sum of isolated direct mail and telephone fundraising campaigns targeting the same donors. 3. Pre-call in advance of a High-Dollar mailing. The advance call is not to ask for money but to thank donors for past support and to ask them to watch for letters on the way. Here’s one more form of donor cultivation; it’s been known to work wonders, especially when the message delivered in the pre-call includes important or interesting news. 4. Phone followup to a mailing. Within two weeks of a mailing, a phone call can be used to discuss the issues raised by the letter and to urge that donors send gifts without delay. Phone follow-up typically doubles mailing response; if you expect high enough response and a large enough average gift without phone followup, this can be the route to greatly increased net revenue. 5. Telephone effort in a renewal series. Phone members (or subscribers) to ask them to renew, either early in a renewal series – to maximize early response and speed up cashflow – or late in the series – to cut telephone costs and maximize response from marginal members. If there is any single best application of telemarketing in the fundraising process, this is probably it. Using the telephone, you can reach people who have proven highly resistant to direct mail appeals. A strong telephone fundraising program can break even – or even raise net dollars – from a group of direct mail-acquired members or subscribers on whom you’ve long since given up. 6. Telephone recruitment for a monthly sustainer program. With or without a direct mail lead letter, you can call new (or newly renewed) members or donors to ask that they join a monthly pledge or sustainer program. (In these efforts, an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) option may also be smoothly introduced.) Using the telephone to recruit monthly sustainers may well triple or even quadruple the conversion rate – and the economics of monthly sustainer programs are extremely favorable for the organizations with the wit and the wherewithal to set them up. If you assume an average monthly gift anywhere between $10 and $20 – it’s around $17 in all the programs with which I’m personally familiar – a little simple multiplication will show that you can raise really big bucks with a relatively small investment in telemarketing. 7. High-Dollar giving club telephone recruitment. With or without a direct mail lead letter, you can call High-Dollar prospects – generally, donors who have contributed at least $100 on at least one occasion – to offer membership in an annual giving club at the $250, $500, or $1000 level. While prospects can, indeed, be persuaded to send such high gifts in response to very special High-Dollar direct mail packages, the response rate is typically even higher in a well-run telephone fundraising program. (And a combination of a High-Dollar lead letter and a High-Dollar follow-up call can be even more productive!) 8. Announce a special fundraising campaign by telephone. Once leadership gifts have been pledged, you can call your next-best donors or prospects to announce the launching of a capital, endowment, or other special fundraising campaign. The next step is to follow up by mailing materials tailored to donors’ gift levels. If necessary, you can phone again to solidify or confirm pledges – and to thank donors for their support. The special, personalized attention you’re able to give donors through a telephone call – which is, after all, genuine person-to-person fundraising – is the next best thing to a personal visit. And I can think of situations in which a call is even better than a visit. (So can many donors!) 9. Use a mail-phone-mail sequence in place of two or three special appeals. To launch a short-term fundraising campaign among your membership and achieve maximum impact and the highest possible response rate, you can announce the campaign with a mailing, follow up by phone 7-10 days later, and mail a second time one month afterward – an appeal to those who haven’t responded, and a thank-you to those who have. (And don’t forget the people for whom you can’t get phone numbers, or can’t reach by phone – or who refuse to pledge by telephone: mail them a special version of your follow-up letter.) In many situations, this may be the optimal combination of mail and phone fundraising techniques. It’s the sort of carefully planned and coordinated effort that the very best direct marketers use to sell high-ticket consumer products or business services – but it’s all too rare in the fundraising field. Why can’t we learn a lesson from our peers in the commercial world? 10. Dedicate a telephone line for fundraising inquiries. In thank-you letters – or in an insider’s newsletter for a monthly sustainer program or a giving club – you can tell donors they may call a special inside line in your office to discuss their concerns or ask questions. National organizations may wish to offer toll-free numbers to High-Dollar donors. This is another form of kid-glove donor cultivation. In the long run, it can pay off in a very big way! 11. Phone new members early to ask for additional support. Within 60-90 days of receipt of a new member’s first gift – and after the welcome package and first newsletter have been mailed – you might phone to introduce an important, broadly appealing program and to solicit immediate support. The very best time to approach a donor for a new (and bigger) gift is just after you’ve received the last one! Far fewer than you might imagine will resent the request. 12. Survey top donors by phone. A few weeks in advance of a major appeal, you can phone your top 50 or top 500 donors. In a conversational but entirely consistent way, ask as many of them as are willing to cooperate to answer a series of pre-determined questions about the work of your organization, its image, your fundraising plans and programs. Ask for suggestions about how to improve your operations; don’t ask for money. The information you receive about your donors’ perceptions of you and your work may prove to be important; far more important, however, is the information you get about your individual donors’ attitudes and preferences. And don’t be surprised if a survey of this sort actually proves extraordinarily lucrative: many donors will either send unsolicited gifts after you’ve talked to them – or respond more generously to your next appeal. Mal Warwick is founder and chairman of Mal Warwick | Donordigital and the author of twenty books on fundraising. His most recent book is The Business Solution to Poverty with Paul Polak.

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