Lesson 2: Running a telethon at an independent school
By Dan Keyworth
Preparing for the telethon
At the outset, determine your goals for the telethon. Sensible planning will ensure that benefits are maximised and expectations are clear. You require the full backing of your school in order to succeed, so bring everyone on board very early on in the planning process.
Make it as straightforward as possible for contacts to give to your school, minimising the time and resources needed for chasing pledge fulfilment and keeping down the unfulfilled pledges at campaign end. Set up the capacity to process credit/debit card donations, either by obtaining a Merchant Service directly from an Acquiring Bank or by registering to a third-party online provider, such as Charities Aid Foundation. In both cases, for a minimal fee you will be able to take single gifts immediately over the phone. You may even be able to process credit/debit card donations directly through your database. Ensure that any payment solutions are certified compliant to PCI DSS standards.
Just as importantly, your office should acquire the facility to accept Paperless Direct Debits (PDD). These enable you to sign up customers for Direct Debit collections over the telephone, internet or face to face. This procedure can take several months but once authorised you will be able to accept regular gift instructions, removing the need to send standing order gift forms in the post to pledgers. To receive Originator status, Automated Direct Debit Instruction Service (AUDDIS) authorisation and PDD authorisation you require a sponsor: if you have BACS to administer your school’s transactions, then your bank may sponsor you to run PDDs through the same software. You will also need to agree wording of your call script, advance notice confirmation letters and giving forms, and to demonstrate that your database is capable of producing the required electronic files to process Direct Debits in this manner. An alternative to BACS, favoured by some schools, is to appoint CAF or another external provider to set up, process and manage PDDs on your behalf.
Once you have a timetable for your telethon, it is imperative to prepare thoroughly. Firstly, ensure that your CRM database is in excellent condition. You require accurate contact details and the ability to effectively segment data. Data cleansing can be time-consuming for many schools, but there are external data enrichment services available which can advance this process.
The next step is to select your contacts. Include a good proportion of your top prospects and previous donors to give your telethon the best chance of success. Aim to contact a relatively consistent mix of donors and non-donors between years, so that you are including some previously unengaged contacts to cultivate new relationships. The benefit of year-on-year consistency also aids reporting post-telethon, so that accurate comparisons can be made between campaigns to determine the most successful techniques.
It is similarly important to know whom to exclude from calling. It is not permissible under law for a school, or any other charity, to make marketing telephone calls to numbers registered with the UK Telephone Preference Scheme (TPS) – a UK-wide ‘do not call’ register – without explicit opt-in consent from an individual for the specific method and purpose for which you wish to contact them.
Ideally, pre-determine ask amounts for each contact. One of the strengths of a telephone call is the ability to negotiate and, to do this, the initial ask amount should be ambitious. Teachers may willingly give £25 per month and investment bankers £1,000 or more per year, but if your callers start with lower ask levels and the contact says yes right away, the callers cannot easily then switch to a higher ask. Unless a contact is in a profession with irregular income, the initial ask should nearly always be for a regular gift.
When determining ask amounts, in addition to obvious employment indicators, try to consider each contact’s wider picture. The ask should reflect both determinants: age, career and residence, but also previous giving history, attachment to specific appeals, previous responses, whether they have made many visits back to the school, and any other relevant factors.
Since your callers will be at the heart of your success, it is important to select the right people. Outstanding callers have been known to raise as much as £30,000+ over a two-week period. What typically works well is to have a balance of loud, outgoing, bubbly ‘chatterers’ and quieter, more reserved and sensitive ‘listeners’. After all, no two contacts are the same and different people prefer different types of conversation.
The final task is preparing the two types of post or email communications (each with variations) that contacts should typically receive as part of a telethon. The first is the notification sent shortly before the telethon to inform contacts that they can expect to receive a call from the school, both to share news and to invite their support. This pre-telethon notification can be a letter, email, postcard etc. The second set of communications are those to be sent to each contact immediately after their telephone call takes place, to follow up what was agreed. Segment these according to the response – e.g. tailoring based on whether the result was a paperless Direct Debit, donation by credit/debit card, pledged regular gift, etc. It is well worth accompanying any letter directly from the school with a tailored thank you card from the individual caller.
Unless they have already made their gift and just need to be thanked, it is usually preferable to enclose a donation form with every follow-up package. Together, the form and follow-up communication should encourage people who said ‘yes’ over the telephone to fulfil pledges; people who were unsure or said ‘no’ to reconsider; and people who did not pick up to add their support to the telethon.
Training will be the most important days in the process. There is a great deal of ground to cover and it will require an attentive group of callers, and informed and well-versed trainers who can create excitement about the campaign.
Perhaps the first task in the training is to address the taboo – to shake out any misconception that this is unwanted cold-calling or telesales and to inspire belief and confidence in the callers. Explain why calling works. If the callers believe they can be successful and have an enjoyable time in the process, then they probably will.
Callers need to be fully aware from the start of the wider picture and they should fully understand exactly why there is a need to fundraise for the school. It is important that the callers understand the telethon’s broad aims. Emphasising the importance of pledges should help to minimise the occurrence of callers missing out on impactful gifts by conceding too readily. Similarly, minimise the likelihood of calls concluding with a maybe by getting them to focus on persuading each contact to pledge an exact/minimum gift amount that is more likely to be fulfilled.
Next, the training should move to the stages of a good call. There is no such thing as a perfect ‘script’ but some key phrases provided by the development office might stand the callers in good stead. Take callers carefully through each stage:
1. The greeting and the reasons for the call
2. Rapport and intelligent listening: Identify possible conversation topics and discuss useful open questions. The callers’ aim is to help contacts to remember that their school is a living, thriving place with real people in it.
3. Building the case for support and making the ask: By listening carefully the callers should be able to match the school’s case for support to the contact’s interests and make the ask in a very natural way that flows on from this rapport.
4. Negotiation and tackling common objections
5. Thank you and closure: Emphasise the need to repeat everything clearly so that neither person is in any doubt as to what has been agreed. This includes confirming the amount and the details of their donation, whether Gift Aid can be applied, whether they are happy for their name to be listed as a donor, and any payment details.
The training should bring out the importance of listening to and understanding why a contact might be saying no and then addressing their concerns thoughtfully and confidently. Each contact should ideally be asked three times – typically at decreasing levels, without ever being rude or forceful. They should not, unless prompted by the contact, ask more than three times within a call.
Finally, conclude training by getting in as much practice as possible. Here is your chance to see how each of the callers copes under pressure – with the supervisors and/or other callers watching them take on a typical call. The primary purpose of these practice conversations should be to inspire confidence and fluency in the pupils, so it is important to give encouragement to them as well as to highlight areas to improve. The more practice calls a caller makes, the better prepared they will be for the real thing.