Let’s Prove the Numbers Wrong: a look at Fundraising in the Digital Age.

Ken Summerlin had such a good comment on my frustrated post about violence in the name of fund raising that as I started replying to it, I found out that it deserved it’s own post.  Here’s a excerpt of Ken’s comment:

…Unfortunately, telemarketers and political candidates have so abused the phone as a contact medium, that I think we may need to consider surrendering it as a means of unsolicited communication. My wife and I are canceling our home phone service next month for this very reason. Most of our friends and family call us on our cell phones and the majority of calls we receive on our home phone are from solicitors and telemarketers or, at the moment, political robocalls…

…Is using the phone to set up appointments to share about your ministry absolutely necessary? I realize that calling is quicker and less costly than mailing but it may no longer be effective. Could you request an e-mail or snail-mail address rather than a phone number from someone who is giving you a referral? Would it be reasonable to ask the recipient to visit your website or respond to you via e-mail or a phone call if they would like to learn more about your ministry?

Ken, thanks for the comment, and your perspective. It’s a great reminder of what we have to differentiate ourselves from when on the phone. I realize that the phone is less than ideal. That’s why we are trained to not ask for money or referrals over the phone, but to try and get a face-to-face appointment. People just don’t give to causes over the phone, unless they are tricked into it (which you and I have both experienced — the salesman that talks so fast you’ve already confirmed your shipping address before you can tell them you aren’t interested.)

Regarding email: the non-profit industry standard for people OPENING their emails is less than 25%, and the industry standard for people that click on anything in the email is 7%. That means my odds of getting a response of any type is about 1%, and my odds of getting back money are less than that. And believe me, I have tried and found those numbers to be hauntingly accurate, even with people whom I know well. That’s not even counting people that I don’t know.  I have to say something controversial in the subject line just to get the thing opened.

Regarding postal service fund raising: I’ve probably sent over 4000 appeal letters for financial support over the last eight years. And I’ve received back funds from (ball park guess here, but I’ll high-ball it just in case) 20% of those appeals. And I know with a few variations exactly which 20% will respond to a letter. Again, this is with people who know me, most of whom I’ve shared face-to-face my heart for ministry and our need for funds.  And I can count on one hand the number of people that have joined our team on an ongoing basis from an email or a letter in the mail.  Well over 90% of the funds we get from postal service asks are one-time gifts (we call them “special gifts” to avoid the permanence of “one-time.”)

That leaves the phone.  One of the best ways we’ve found to “warm up” the cold call is by using the name of the referrer. “Jim and Judy Moneybags thought you’d be interested in hearing more about our ministry.” Other times we have preceded the phone call with a letter telling them we are going to call.  All of those things help.  Also, as you mentioned, getting someone’s mobile number is a leg-and-a-half up, and increases our chance of getting a face-to-face.

I’d love to prove the numbers wrong.  I’d love to have people click links in my blog posts that allow them to set up ongoing financial contributions (see what I did, there?) or to have interested folks contact me.  But most of the folks I meet with don’t know they are interested in helping out financially until they hear about the desperate need for the gospel on the college campus, and how we propose to trust the Lord to help bring the gospel to the campus.  And they don’t hear that unless I can get a 30-45 minute appointment with them.  And the majority of my appointments are made over the phone, and initiated by me.

Speaking of which, I’m gonna go now and make some phone calls.  If you (not just Ken) have any suggestions for how I might get appointments without the phone, I could not possibly be listening any more intently.  Comment below.

5 Replies to “Let’s Prove the Numbers Wrong: a look at Fundraising in the Digital Age.”

  1. I have LOTS of thoughts on this, but not lots of time to share them at the moment.

    The one I’ll take time to quickly try and articulate is this:

    When I was raising support to go on stint, I head a pretty hard time. My (mega) church was squarely against supporting me at all OR ALLOWING ME TO CALL ANYONE WITHIN THE CHURCH.

    I sat down with the ‘missions’ pastor and tried to explain what I was doing. He said that calling people or actively seeking support at all was evidence that I didn’t trust God to provide, and maybe it was a signal that I shouldn’t be going at all. The example he used was Gideon (no, it doesn’t work really well, but…)

    Here’s roughly what I told him:

    God used Gideon to save Israel. He could have done it by Himself, but He set aside about 300 men and gave Gideon instructions for how to identify those men. Support-raising is the act of seeking out those who God has set aside. It isn’t asking someone to do what God hasn’t put in their heart: it is simply asking someone whether God HAS put it in their heart.

    He didn’t buy it, but I think it’s true.
    .-= Zack (@zacharyb)´s last blog ..The Sprinkler =-.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Zack.

      I think it’s really funny how folks think it is being more faithful to do nothing. Like God doesn’t want us to ask.

      Faith is not an exercise in ignoring facts. To “just wait on the money to come in” is like sitting staring at the door while the room fills up with poisonous gas, and waiting for the Lord to take away the gas. The Lord put the door there, and gave you a brain!

      And you make a great point about manipulating people. I am not putting it on their heart (manipulation). I am seeing if God already has. that is a crucial distinction.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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  3. I empathize with you, Ben, with regard to the post to which this is a follow-up for. Support-raising has, at times, felt like a thankless enterprise. I also agree that phoning has still been the most effective approach for me. However, I would like to note that I found responses to Facebook posts/messages has been surprisingly effective – at least compared to e-mail. Perhaps this is because there is very little spam on Facebook…

    1. I suppose I have had some success with facebook messages, as well, now that you mention it. I just know that I have had less success with fb messages about support than with fb messages about other things, so that is frustrating.

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