telephonePlanning Your Campaign

Selecting Your Firm

There are a number of quality telefundraising firms that do extensive work in the public media industry. If you're just starting out, contact more than one firm.

  • Ask how much experience they have with sustainer campaigns.
  • Ask which stations they work with.
  • Ask for references, and call the references to check out the pros and cons and confirm that all of the information you've been given by the firm is accurate.

An easy way to narrow down your choices from the start is to begin by asking a few larger stations which firms they use, and what their experience and results have been.

You’ll also want to share your desired budget and/or number of donors you wish to reach in order to ask each prospective firm to build you a set of projections and a proposal based on the historical knowledge they’ve gathered from other sustainer campaigns in public media. Be clear with each firm that you seek accurate and achievable projections, not pie-in-the sky best-case scenarios.

It’s important to have a discussion with the firms you’re considering to confirm what contact rate they expect to achieve and approximately how long they expect the campaign to last in order to meet your target number of contacts and donations.

If you have a specific idea of how long you wish your campaign to run, let them know up front. Most campaigns run somewhere between four and six weeks, allowing ample time to begin slowly and to test scripting up front to maximize response. They then ramp up for the main campaign, and finish off more slowly with the final set of better performing segments.

And don’t hesitate to ask if there’s any way they can give you a slightly better price, particularly if this is your first campaign with the firm. They may be willing to discount your campaign slightly up front until the work has been proven for you, lowering your initial investment risk.

Set Your Budget

Like acquisition mail, which typically costs the station money in the first year in order to deliver a solid long-term payoff for years to come, your telefundraising campaigns will also be an investment in future revenue.

When considering your budget don't worry if you don't have phone numbers for all of your donors in your database. Your chosen firm can perform a phone append for a nominal charge which can drastically expand the number of people you can call. After the campaign concludes, you can import the numbers into your database like you would with NCOA address changes.

Either for initial budget-planning purposes or once you have projections from the firm you will work with, you can make use of this helpful budget worksheet to fully plan out your budget and long-term revenue. Simply plug in your numbers and the revenue projections will auto-calculate.

Typically, for first-time campaigns results will be stronger, and for mature programs they will be slightly lower as many of the donors who are easiest to convert will have already taken action. That said, results can also vary depending on your region, your community's economic health, how people feel about your station, and other variables.

Script Your Campaign

Every telemarketing firm has a different approach to scripts based on their callers' strengths and training, unique work culture, and fundraising approach. With your initial input, the firm will take the lead on developing the scripts, and then will edit them in partnership with you.

Keep in mind that a script is a guideline, so you shouldn't feel the need to deliberate over every single word. The best callers make use of the script, but take it where the donor leads them. That said, as you review scripts, be sure to read them out loud. Are they conversational? Do they carry a positive and easy-going tone? Are they focused on the benefits to the donor, not just on your station's funding needs and challenges? It is important that the callers have knowledge about public television, they should know your programs and the schedule. Having the caller understand the value of public television will contribute to a deeper connection between caller and donor.

It's important to remember that the true power of telemarketing comes from the fact that the interaction is a live conversation and negotiation, not a static appeal. Therefore, it's typical to see up to three different asks built into the scripts. Some firms are less assertive and will only ask twice, although for sustainer calling, the three-ask approach typically performs better. Often, the third, final ask can be for a single gift; while it is not the primary goal of your campaign, it does continue to build revenue and offset costs. You will notice that the budget worksheet includes a section for one-time donation results.

Check out sample scripts here.

Set Up Your Ask String

To achieve maximum effectiveness, it's important for the caller to have access to the donor's current or previous giving level, and to have an appropriate ask string to work with for each appeal.

Ask strings should be customized to the donor’s giving history and tied to the most recent contribution (MRC). Following are some typical sustainer telemarketing ask strings. It’s important to remember that one size does not always fit all stations. Start here but remember that an advantage of telemarketing is that if the results aren’t as you wish, you can test or change elements in an effort to boost results. If you seek a higher response rate, try lowering the ask. If your average gift is too low, increase the ask string.

If a significant number of your donors contributed recently to receive a premium, you may need to adjust the ask string accordingly since the member's last gift could be inflated compared to what they might typically contribute in the absence of a gift.

Sustainer Invite:

AnnualAsk 1 MonthlyAsk 2 MonthlyAsk 3 Single
MRC $0-24.99:$12$81x $25
MRC $25-49.99:$15$101x $50
MRC $50-99.99:$20$151x $75
MRC $100-249.99:$25$201x $100
MRC $250+:$35$251x $150


MonthlyAsk 1 MonthlyAsk 2 MonthlyAsk 3 Single
$1-$14.99SUS + $7SUS + $51x $30
$15 - $19.99SUS + $10SUS + $71x $45
$20 - $24.99SUS + $10SUS + $71x $45
$25 - $49.99SUS + $13SUS + $101x $60
$50 - $99.99SUS + $18SUS + $151x $75

In order to take full advantage of the benefits of telemarketing in lapsed and renewal campaigns, you can also use a sustainer invite strategy to ask donors to renew or rejoin as sustainers. This makes a useful upsell for donors who have agreed to donate, but you should also test offering monthly giving as a first option for reactivation

Find a Hook

Just as challenge grants, prize drawings and premiums can be powerful incentives to "act now" in on-air fundraising, the same idea applies to a telemarketing call. Because of the personal nature of the call and the timeliness of its real time nature, urgency-builders can be very effective.

For example, a match challenge offered by an underwriter or major donor will typically outperform a straight, non-match campaign. Say a major donor contributes $5,000 to be used to match new or upgraded sustainers, the script would appear something like, "…and for a very short time, a generous WXYZ donor will match the first year of your sustainer donation…" or "…today, a generous WXYZ donor will kick in an additional $50 for every upgraded sustainer membership…"

An opportunity to be entered into a prize drawing can also boost results, as can a special premium offer — for example, the offer of a sustainer-exclusive item to incentivize first-time participation.

Keep in mind that just as it's not typically the best practice to open an on-air fundraising break by holding up the premium and talking about it before you speak about the program and the importance of the mission, it's also recommended to hold off on mention of the incentive item until nearer to the second ask to keep your calling on message and economical.

Select Your Donors

Selecting the best donors to call (segmentation) is key to success in a campaign. In order to conduct the most strategic set of calling and to be able to analyze performance for future campaigns, it is essential to select and segment donors properly. This is why it's vital to have your database manager extensively involved in these campaigns.

People who recently gave are the most likely to become sustainers. These donors are current, have just proved their interest in your station, and if they've been acknowledged in a timely and effective manner, they also feel good about supporting your station.

It's typical to begin a campaign with donors who contributed in the last 0-12 months whose highest past contribution was under $1,000. If you have funds available to go deeper, you would next attempt to call supporters who recently lapsed at 13-24 months.

For upgrade campaigns, first include current sustainers with a monthly contribution between $5 and $50. If your budget allows, increase the monthly amount until you hit your major donor giving level. It's recommended that you suppress donors who are brand new or who have upgraded or downgraded in the prior three months.

For lapsed sustainers, begin with donors who were once sustainers 3-27 months ago but are no longer active.

On process, make sure to check in early on data delivery timelines, because it is likely that you will need to supply a test file before the campaign launches. And you want to be sure to give your firm many more contacts than you have budgeted since calls typically reach 20-45% of your file, depending on its makeup.

A sample data request can be found here.

Prepare Your Staff — You Will Receive Complaints

Especially if this is one of your first telemarketing campaigns, you will receive some complaints from donors, which means that it's essential for your team to understand why you're calling and the importance of the campaign.

Internal Communication is key! When your member services team understands and values telemarketing campaigns, they will be better equipped to adeptly handle donor concerns.

When members call the station to complain about the call they received, it’s important that their concern is validated. Repeat back to them their concern, look up their record to see which campaign they were called by, and explain why this campaign is important to station programming. If (and only if) they ask to be removed from further calls, code them appropriately.

Some of your donors may also be signed up for the national do not call list, which applies to general solicitations and doesn’t apply to nonprofit organizations contacting their supporters and people who are active with them. It’s important for your customer service team to understand this aspect of telemarketing, and to be responsive to donor wishes about future calling.

Now, if the complaint occurs because the caller was rude or inappropriate, this type of complaint should be immediately escalated to the call center. You can send the donor name and ID to the firm and request an audio file of the call. Oftentimes the caller is simply following the script and making three asks and the member is annoyed, feeling that the caller was pushy. However, this is human interaction, so on rare occasions things can happen. Depending on how you feel, you can request further training for the caller or ask to have the caller removed from your campaigns. If appropriate, follow-up with the member or send an apology letter.