The Heart Research Institute established its donor base almost single-handedly over copper wire networks. Maggie Johns explains how telemarketing transformed an organisation.

The Heart Research Institute established its donor base almost single-handedly over copper wire networks. Maggie Johns explains how telemarketing transformed an organisation.

After starting at The Heart Research Institute some eight years ago, reality set in very quickly. Only a handful of donors and no money!! So, the big question – how could we grow our donor base with minimal or no cost?

Direct mail acquisition was not an option as there are quite significant up front losses, and whilst eventually money is recouped and ultimately profits made, it takes several years. Whilst not devaluing this style of fundraising, you need money to do it.

So, how did we initially acquire donors at no up-front cost? Telemarketing. In the first instance we contracted an extremely professional and reputable telemarketing organisation that sold product on our behalf. We had no risk and no costs but were simply guaranteed a percentage of the sale.

We then approached a second contractor to acquire donation-only donors over the telephone, and then a third contractor to telemarket our lotteries.

From a standing start in 1998 we now have over 200,000 active supporters acquired via telemarketing who generate approximately $2 million in revenue a year. And it seems there are three very distinct types of supporter – those who are happy to purchase product; those who simply want to make a donation; and finally there are people who like the chance to win something. The number of supporters in each category is very evenly spread.

The power of telemarketing

One of the great advantages of telemarketing is that it engages people in conversations – there is human contact, as opposed to mail, which is usually an inert item that can be easily tossed.

Also, every call is a PR call. Even if a person chooses not to support you, at least you’re educating them about your cause.

The other excellent attribute of telemarketing is that people can donate immediately over the phone with a credit card or paperless direct debit. It’s very simple and very quick.

The key to successful telemarketing is to use telemarketing companies in their specific field of expertise, i.e. product experts, donor experts and lottery experts. Quality control is a must as is the ongoing education of the contractor.

Industry Changes

Having been involved in telemarketing for some 15 years, I have seen the industry evolve into an “almost acceptable” part of our everyday lives. Initially, the community were quite affronted at the interruption of the phone call. However, it simply seems part of our day now.

Sure, we get some complaints and we follow up on each and every one. However, given the 10,000 phone calls the institute makes every week, complaints remain minimal.

Computerisation has also revolutionised the telemarketing industry through better storage of donor records and more intelligent use of donor information. This has resulted in lower costs because phone calls are not made to people who have already said “don’t call me.” Higher returns are also possible through making offers based on known buyer/donor behaviour.

The future

More and more people will commit to regular giving or purchasing (eg, lottery tickets) over the phone because they would rather just hear from you once than hear from you several times for one-off asks.

For supporters it’s more convenient and saves time if they give authorisation to have their credit card or cheque account debited several times over a year and not have to deal with a new phone call every time there’s a new ask.

Telemarketing will increasingly move offshore because it is cheaper and done very professionally. Those manning the phones in call centres in India and the Philippines are often university graduates who see telemarketing as a career. When there are so few other job opportunities, an air-conditioned office is a very pleasant environment in which to work.

The turnover of call centre staff in Asian countries is much less than in Australia where the phones are often manned by casual workers or students who generally tend not to stay in these positions for any length of time.

While telemarketing was the foundation stone on which our donor base was built, it continues to play a major role, and indeed, we are exploring new opportunities to use those copper wire networks.