Telephone Fundraising

From Bangalore to Birmingham?

By Bruce Cotton

With the Australian dollar at an all-time high, fundraisers may be tempted to consider off shoring their telemarketing programmes on the promise of savings on calling costs.

Does this represent an opportunity to stretch budgets a little further or merely open up a whole new area of risk for your fundraising department?

Offshore outsourcing of telemarketing comes in many different guises and the current financial competitiveness of experienced North American and UK players will be sustainable only as long as the Aussie dollar remains high. More sustainably cheap options like the Philippines and India continue to be rejected by almost all Australian fundraisers due to the quality and fundraising experience of potential partners.

So if there’s a short term opportunity, should I be taking it? The answer to this lies in a combination of your appetite for risk and the diligence that you can put in to ensure that you are getting a quality product for your money. First and foremost in most people’s mind will be whether the financial returns can be achieved. While the cost elements of telemarketing are predictable and mostly-comparable, the income is always less certain. Different agencies provide differing levels of rigour in understanding your data and the predictability of your results, and hence accuracy of income projections is a function of the analysis of your data and the agency’s experience of running the type of campaign or programme. Whether offshoring or not, satisfying yourself that the agency has a good grasp of the likely behaviour of your supporters is critical in giving you confidence that income goals are achievable and this may be more difficult if the benchmarks being used are how similar campaigns perform in the UK or North America.

Naturally, most aspects of client satisfaction are going to stem from whether income goals are met or not and it’s when things haven’t gone right that it’s important to be clear on with whom your contractual arrangement lies and what recourse you have if there are problems. Is your agreement with the actual agency that is calling your supporters, a partner company or their commissioned local sales agent. None of these things matter when things go well but if there is a problem with fulfilling the agreement, or a serious data breach, then what recourse do you have and are you able to exercise your commercial rights over an overseas organisation? A bit extreme? Under the old adage of hope for the best but plan for the worst, and with serious legislation around data privacy and PCI, these are things that we would recommend any client to be clear on.

This is not the most exciting aspect of fundraising, but it’s equally important to be satisfied that your offshore partner is fully compliant with Australian fundraising legislation and is staying on top of the emerging changes. Only last week we saw the introduction of new legislation in South Australia, and different states have different licence requirements for charities and their telefundraising agencies that requires compliance.  In Victoria and SA the agencies themselves are required to hold their own fundraising licence and we’re not aware of any of these being issued to any offshore agencies at this time. In our experience, none of these areas are insurmountable but we would always recommend checking compliance with your own legal team or legal advisers to make sure any risks are understood, and covered in your contract.

With low-cost telephony, and the availability of teams of Australian back-packers in far-flung places of the world it is always going to be attractive for call centres to sell their dead hours and sweat their capital assets throughout the night. This helps to drive price advantages that appear enticing but it’s worth considering whether the agency has its full support teams managing your campaign in the early hours of the morning or whether you simply have a few callers with a night-shift supervisor ploughing through your valuable supporter data.

 Our experience is that the initial campaign brief is always best delivered by the client, in person, as it is this interaction which sparks the passion in the fundraiser and inspires team leaders and callers alike. With the demanding nature of outbound calling, we find that the availability of coaching, training and regular buzz sessions help to keep the calling team fired-up and supporters consequently engaged. Constant monitoring of performance is essential in identifying where callers are struggling to connect with supporters and it’s unusual to find that this support is in place 24/7 in all but the largest call centre operations.

We’ve also found that the level of operational support is essential for the client when dealing with an emergency situation like a high-level complaint or an urgent need to put a campaign on hold. It’s easy to make arrangements with your offshore partner about how WIPs and scheduled meetings can be planned at the beginning or end of days to keep client and supplier happy but it makes sense to check-out how, and who, can make things happen in the middle of the calling shift.

The key here is to be absolutely clear on what you’re getting, what you’re not getting, who are you contracting with, what’s your recourse if things go wrong, and am I compliant. Ask all the questions, check with your own legal team, check out who you’re partnering with and if you’ve got all the right answers then it might just be that the strong Aussie dollar is moving the offshore debate from Bangalore to Birmingham.

I should declare that as CEO of an Australian based specialist fundraising call centre, my natural position is not an impartial one. However, in the ongoing search to provide better services for our clients, we have recently invested effort in assessing whether Pareto should take advantage of overseas opportunities. This article is written largely as a means to share the findings of that assessment.

If you would like to discuss how Pareto Phone can help your charity achieve the best telephone fundraising possible, please contact Keith Elliott on 07 3015 4017 or keith.elliott@paretophone.com.