Viewpoint: Obituaries for telephone fundraising are premature

The Telephone Preference Service is not quite the catastrophe for charities that the doom-mongers would have us believe.

Rumours of the death of fundraising methods are, to borrow from American author Mark Twain, usually greatly exaggerated. Direct mail and face-to-face, both of which are still effective when done well, have apparently been at death's door for years. And now it seems that telephone fundraising is about to join them.

The cause of the doom-mongers' pessimism is two-fold. The Telephone Preference Service, which enables people to register their desire not to receive marketing calls, is reducing the prospect pool dramatically, and the people who are left in that pool are getting fed up with being called. But those predicting the telephone's demise aren't suffering from a lack of numbers - just a lack of imagination.

Conversations are the best possible way to engage people and convince them to give money. Yes, you can recruit people online or on paper to make low-level regular donations. But if you want them to give at levels that make financial sense, you really have to talk to them.

But for telephone fundraising to be a success, fundraisers must have conversations with people who are interested in what you are saying (having something interesting to say is important, too, but that's another issue). And the easiest way to find out whether people are interested is to ask them for their telephone numbers.

At Bluefrog, we've used press, mail, online and street recruitment to collect numbers and generate thousands of such prospects. (If marketers collect data through such a variety of response channels, they would do well to make sure supporters opt in for marketing calls at this stage.) These people not only give us the details and the permission we need to contact them, but also engage a little with the cause - thus making the telephone negotiations far easier and the whole process far more lucrative than simple cold calling.

Prospect response gathering by text messaging is particularly lucrative because you get responses and phone numbers at one and the same time. Don't worry about donations by text - the operators pocket half the funds anyway. Just focus on securing people's mobile numbers and their willingness to talk.

This stuff isn't easy, but it's nothing new. Talking to people who might want to engage with you in a way that they're happy with is absolutely fundamental to all fundraising.

So let's stop bemoaning the fact that the Telephone Preference Service is putting the squeeze on straightforward cold calling. Instead, let's make a virtue of necessity and focus on engaging people in conversations that they want to have.

The phone is dead. Long live the phone.

- James Briggs is head of planning at Bluefrog, the advertising agency that specialises in the not-for-profit sector.


The Telephone Preference Service is the opt-out system with which people can register their preference not to receive unsolicited telephone marketing calls. No organisation can call registered numbers without individuals' consent.

Mobile numbers can be registered, but that does not prevent firms from sending marketing text messages. To stop receiving marketing text messages, recipients must send text 'opt-out' requests to specific companies.

The number of households registered with the TPS exceeds 14.7 million. Colin Lloyd, chairman of the Fundraising Standards Board, said fundraising through cold calls would be dead within five years.

In July, 200,000 numbers were registered on the TPS, but the Direct Marketing Association says the rate for registrations has since slowed down.

The Mailing Preference Service allows members of the public to request not to receive direct-mail marketing. The Baby Mailing Preference Service regulates baby-related mailings. There is also a Fax Preference Service.

- Emma Rigby.


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