Fundraising Q/A: What are your views on professional telemarketing?

Many universities engage their students in fundraising, to reach out to alumni for donations and/or send letters of thanks for gifts. That tradition, however, seems to be changing and perhaps not for the better. We thought you might appreciate this (disguised!) letter from one donor to his university alma mater.

Sitting at work, I get an impersonal call from a call center hitting me up for a donation. Where do I start?

Really, the college now outsources even asking for money? A third party in a room in North Dakota reads a script asking me for dough while I hear other script readers babbling in the background?

I am all for efficiency – and maybe the Development staff can prove it works – but please count me out. Where I come from, if you ask someone for money, then you ask them for money. You don’t send a third party. Unless you’re the Mob.

I remember the traditional call from an existing student. Yes, they’d be reading from a script but it seemed right. Almost authentic. And, in any case, it was good form and in my case effective.

Maybe the school can’t even find students willing to work for a measly $12 per hour. Or $15. The inhumanity. If this is “progress,” I want no part of it.

Generally, I am not a fan of professional telemarketing and fear that it is giving philanthropy a bad name. It’s not just the invasiveness or impersonality; you also wonder how much of your money is really going to the cause. Many a nonprofit has come under fire for high-cost marketing services.

As a donor, I would be much more receptive to a call from a grateful scholarship student than a call center. As a fundraiser, I believe that whether you are a university, medical center or animal shelter, getting people who really believe in your cause to make the solicitation gets much better results.

That said, telemarketing must work for some organizations or they wouldn’t do it. And, donors shouldn’t use it as an easy excuse to discount a worthy cause. I am reminded of this story from one of my friends, a very successful volunteer fundraiser. He calls it the Peanut Butter Story.

It begins with a call on a donor. After some discussion, the donor asked if my friend liked peanut butter.

“Yes,” my friend replied.

“Well, then, no money from me,” the donor shot back.

“Why not?” asked the puzzled fundraiser.

“Well, I wasn’t going to give you any anyway, but now I have a reason.”

In my terminology, that’s not a reason, but an excuse. I hope that you (and I!) don’t run into too many characters like that.

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