Focus: Fundraising - Case study - Phoning rules challenged by Sustrans

Nathalie Thomas, nathalie.thomas@haynet.com

Summary

The civil engineering charity Sustrans supported its project to transfer donations from standing orders to direct debit with a gradual telephone fundraising campaign, first rolled out in June 2004.

The campaign, in which the charity tested a new interpretation of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) fundraising regulations, resulted in a £113,968 rise in annual income. The groundbreaking campaign won the Best Use of Telephone in Fundraising category at the Institute of Fundraising Awards in July.

Background

Sustrans raises money to fund projects to promote walking, cycling and the use of public transport. The charity had previously processed internally all donations by standing order and was keen to encourage its supporters to donate through direct debit.

The charity approached the telefundraising agency GoGen to help manage its telephone-based campaign, which also involved asking donors for upgrades and Gift Aid declarations.

How it worked

Sustrans had 21,000 standing-order donors on its books, many of whom could not be contacted by telephone because they were TPS-registered. According to fundraising regulations, charities cannot contact such donors by telephone unless they already share a 'special relationship' with them. Until the Sustrans telephone campaign, agencies and charities had interpreted this to mean that TPS-registered donors could not be contacted at all by phone.

Faced with the challenge of making contact with 21,000 donors in the most cost-effective way, GoGen approached the Information Commissioner's Office on Sustrans' behalf with suggestions for a new approach to the TPS rule.

GoGen and Sustrans argued that if TPS-registered donors were already regular givers to the charity, they fell into the 'special relationship' category.

Because this was untested water for the sector, Sustrans and GoGen devised a strategy upon the ICO's recommendations whereby TPS-registered donors who were regular givers were asked at the outset if they were happy to take the call. At the end of the call, the donors were also asked if they would be happy to be contacted by the charity in this way again.

Results

As a result of the new interpretation, Sustrans was able to contact nearly 25 per cent more donors by telephone. The entire operation boosted the charity's annual income by almost £114,000.

About 74 per cent of the TPS-registered donors agreed to make the transfer to direct debit, and 46 per cent pledged to increase their donations. The average donation upgrade was £2.69 a month.

From the non-TPS donor group, 40 per cent agreed to increase their donations and 70 per cent made the transfer to direct debit.

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