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by Megan O’Brien

Karin Kirchoff of Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) spoke to a full room at the DMAW’s July networking luncheon held at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  In her role as VP for Membership, Karin oversees a membership base of 450,000 and has raised over 20 million dollars through multiple channels.  The lunch was sponsored by Nexus Direct, a leading agency within the direct marketing space.

High unemployment and low consumer confidence are still taking their toll on non-profit fundraising.   Experts predict that giving might not stabilize until 2013 — and let’s not even discuss a double dip recession, should it happen.  With the decline of the home phone, low pledge rates and decreasing average gifts how does one justify the continued use of telemarketing in “a world becoming more and more multichannel”?

Lucky for us, Karin brought a friend to help answer this question.   Enter Data Girl.

“Data is king,” stated Karin.  And, with the help of her super-power friend, Karin walked the crowd through some telling statistics of past DOW campaigns.    For those of you wondering, Data Girl is exactly as you might expect – – long red cape, Wonder Woman boots, and most importantly, she has the ability to calculate ROI faster than a speeding bullet.

“The proof is in the numbers,” exclaimed Karin; she went on to demonstrate how the value of a telemarketing donor can be up to two times greater than the value of a direct mail donor.  This is primarily because of the difference in their average gift amount.  Even given today’s declining trends, data shows that the donor captured and cultivated through the phone, ends up giving in larger amounts and having greater long-term value.

By building metrics based on definition of the individual (member, donor, non-donor, activist), creation date, number of actions, recency, method of payment and message — a relationship is built and can be tracked for the long haul.

One reason for the success of telemarketing is the actual human connection that is being lost more and more in our impersonal, email-driven society.    Karin testified to the importance of a good caller through the detailed story of a failed off-shore call center.   A call serves not just as dialing for dollars or renewal, but also as an opportunity to upgrade, provide customer support  or extend a “Thank You”.   All of these efforts and scripts go a long way in maintaining donor and member relations and they present unique opportunities to understand your donor base.

For example, Karin knows her telephone donors are like “Marge”.   Marge is elderly, single, white and loves saving the wolves.  Efforts to test different appeals on Marge have not resulted in the same success as the wolf-saving campaigns.   This was proven without a doubt when Marge exclaimed over the phone, “I will give you money for the wolves but I am not giving money to the polar bears.”    Please Marge, elaborate!    I need to hear more about this wolf loyalty.

So back to the decline of the home phone… what’s a Data Girl to do when almost a quarter of the population no longer has one, and another 15% has one but does not use it?   Karin did agree that this is a challenge and an “evolutionary process” that will result in more mobile giving campaigns.   I feel that it further solidifies the importance of knowing your numbers — of testing, tweaking, and sustaining until the proof says we have indeed evolved and old ways no longer work.    Until then, telemarketing serves as a critical direct marketing channel within the fundraising arena.   Used leanly and wisely, with direct mail, social media and online communications to augment, the power of the telemarketing channel remains strong.

Suggested Reading:   Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers

Upcoming DMAW Events:

5th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference — July 26 – 28, Gaylord National Hotel

August Luncheon on 8/19 — Roger Craver discusses DonorTrends; “Who’s Stealing Your Donors?”