We live in a digital age, but phone calls still play an integral role in acquiring donors. We caught up with Miriam Morgan, Direct Marketing Manager at Heart Research Australia (HROz), and Darren Musilli, CEO of Apple Marketing, to learn more about the highly successful phone campaign they run together.


HROz raises funds for research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. In FY22, 93% of the organ-isation’s income came from fundraising, which consists of appeals, raffles, regular giving (RG), major gifts and bequests (bequests contribute 54% of income).

Until 2022, the charity’s individual giving revenue was dependent on a depleting direct mail (DM) stream and an expensive two-step digital RG campaign. Plus, the average age of the HROz donor is 65-plus, and so the charity sought a new approach that was personal and focused on single (rather than regular) gifts, with the aim of acquiring donors who would ultimately leave a gift in their will.


Starting calls in May 2022, the HROz and Apple Marketing teams put together the following plan for tele-fundraising for both acquisition and ‘renewals’ (follow-up asks to those who donated).

Campaign Management and staff training

Key stakeholders meet regularly via Zoom to discuss progress and make campaign adjustments. Miriam briefs call staff at the start of each campaign. Over time, a core group of callers has remained on HROz campaigns, providing familiarity with the subject matter and donors.

Script development and the ask

Medical research can be a tough gig to fundraise for — breakthroughs are not guaranteed, and discoveries can take decades. The team therefore chose the compelling BioHEART project, a study led by Professor Gemma Figtree that aims to discover novel blood markers and mech-anisms that predict the reasons people experience heart attacks in the absence of traditional modifiable risk factors.

The call script is a careful flow of greeting, hard-hitting facts, back-up dollar handles and confirmation of donor and payment details. And, of course, the opportunity for the call recipient to say no at any time. Apple Marketing writes the scripts, Miriam proofs them.When returning to a donor who has already given over the phone, a new case study is used.

Segmentation and data strategy

The team initially used lapsed data from regular giving, single gifts and raffles and approximately 20,000 contacts acquired through the digital RG campaign. This tepid audience had not previously responded well to mail, email or online retargeting. Darren also added profiled marketing data (lookalikes of HROz supporters) and purchased lists.

Initially the RG two-step data did not perform well, so Darren ran it against existing HROz donors (‘profiling’), whittling the number down from 20,000 to 3000 contacts and driving up the success rate. He also suggested adding lapsed donors who declined/were uncontactable to the DM newsletter mailing list, with prom-ising results. HROz’s campaigns are now ‘always-on’ allowing for quarterly data optimisation.

A graph demonstrating database growth from Tax 2022 to July 2023


In early 2022, 50% of people who donated via the phone campaign did so by credit card. By Christmas 2022, when Australia had been plighted by several high-profile credit card scams, this figure dropped to 30%. Figures today fluctuate between 30% and 50%.

There is an alternative for someone who wishes to donate, but not over the phone. They can request an invoice for later payment: a ‘pledge’. The team conserva-tively predicted that 20–25% of pledges would be fulfilled, but the figure started at 29% and is now 49%. Apple Marketing handle all pledge administration.

The pay-off

Performance by segment is shown in the table. With 42% of donors making a second gift, the program is a sustainable new individual giving stream. (Results provided in July 2023.) Internal efficiencies have been found by moving the mail house processing to Apple Marketing. Miriam is extremely impressed with the professionalism of Apple’s callers as there has only been two complaints from 43,525 conversations. Whilst the intent was single gift acquisition, the campaign has secured three bequestors, four regular givers, a new major donor (who had previously given $20 in 2017 and has now given three $5000 gifts over the phone) and a trust and foundation lead.


Using newsletter appeals as a stewardship channel, utilising matched giving and enhancing caller performance with compel-ling case studies and quality staff training (including inspirational briefings from people such as Professor Figtree) will remain priority tactics for continued growth of the phone program. “I think it’s the human touch,” says Miriam about HROz’s tele-fundraising success — a reminder that, in our digital world, people still value human connection.

To speak to Apple Marketing about your next tele-fundraising campaign, contact Darren at darren.musilli@applemarketing.com.au.