The term ‘pivoting’ has gained considerable cultural currency in the past few months. It is almost impossible to scroll through a LinkedIn feed or listen to a business podcast without a ‘pivot’ being described, discussed or celebrated. Pivoting has been as much a hallmark of our lockdown lives as wine, Tiger King and leisure wear.
In the world of Regular Giving, the shut down of face-to-face fundraising came as a sudden and major blow to numerous charities and suppliers. A significant source of revenue was simply gone, with no firm understanding of when it might return. The need to adapt was immediate, and for many the most self-evident pivot was from face-to-face to tele-fundraising.
In a way, the pandemic has simply accelerated a pre-existing industry trend. It is no secret that in recent years face-to-face in Australia and New Zealand has suffered its fair share of problems. What was once the ‘golden child’ of RG acquisition has become increasingly tarnished by rising attrition rates, blown-out ROIs and reputational challenges. Prior to the pandemic, tele-fundraising had already received traction as a viable alternative to face-to-face. Certainly, few harboured the illusion that tele-fundraising could deliver the same volume of RGs as face-to-face. However, a common understanding prevailed that tele-fundraising could deliver RGs with better retention, improved ROI, and with less reputational hassles.
To what extent is this reputation deserved? This is not a rhetorical question. It is not asked in the spirit of either promoting face-to-face or diminishing tele-fundraising. Rather, it is asked out of genuine interest, particularly as tele-fundraising frequently fails to garner the same level of attention and oversight as face-to-face.
Effective charity-side fundraising managers are prone to monitor their face-to-face donor retention like a hawk, closely watching age metrics and first-failed pledge rates. When it comes to tele-fundraising, however, a more ‘set-and-forget’ attitude can often prevail. There is frequently the assumption that donor retention is just better with phone acquired donors, so monitoring attrition isn’t really a concern. Additionally, there are rarely the kind of CPA or clawback-based billing models in place with tele-fundraising that would necessitate the tracking of donor performance over time.
It not uncommon for problems with donor retention and ROI to remain unknown until well into a tele-fundraising campaign’s lifecycle. By the time these problems are identified, charity and supplier are often without any clear idea of how they arose in the first place.
What makes matters murkier is the inescapable question of data. With face-to-face it is easy to place responsibility for signing up the ‘wrong’ donor squarely on the shoulders of the face-to-face fundraiser. With tele-fundraising, this responsibility is somewhat ‘shared’ between the data provider and the phone agency. The interminable question is posed: “is the problem bad data, bad fundraising, or both?” This can lead to a series of further questions closely resembling an Escher painting, in which no obvious course of action is ever determined.
Some sector stakeholders have been highlighting the same concerns about tele-fundraising as were previously identified with face-to-face. Questions about retention, ROI and reputational integrity are all being raised. Unfortunately, the extent to which these concerns are shared is difficult to quantify. To what extent are these problems non-existent or simply unknown?
This question should be of concern to all charities and suppliers engaged in tele-fundraising as a method of RG acquisition. While ignoring potential problems might seem a good way of avoiding unwanted headaches, long term this only serves to hurt charities and suppliers alike. The truth is that when we neglect to properly understand a form of fundraising, we are usually fated to watch its progressive decline.
With the ‘pivot’ to tele-fundraising well and truly underway, we would all do well to de-mystify this important and powerful channel as soon as possible.