When choosing a telemarketing company for your non-profit fundraising campaign, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start. To begin your search, it’s always a good idea to ask your colleagues for referrals. Check with membership and development professionals at similar organizations and ask who they use for their telemarketing efforts. Be sure to talk to a few different firms so you can adequately compare. Take good notes, as not all firms are created equal. Here are five essential questions to ask each firm you interview:
Are You PCI Compliant?
If you don’t know what PCI Compliance is, be sure to do your homework. In a nutshell, PCI Compliance is all about the safety and security of your donors’ credit card information. If you’re going to trust an organization with such valuable and sensitive information, you need to be confident that certain standards and protocols are in place to prevent fraud. The last thing your organization needs is a security breach that drives away donors.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a proprietary information security standard for organizations that handle cardholder information, and is mandated by the major credit card brands (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc.), and administered by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. PCI standards were created to increase controls around cardholder data to decrease credit card fraud, and are applied to any organization that handles cardholder information. Maintaining PCI Compliance is a rigorous process that requires an organization’s ongoing commitment to security.
First ask, “Are you PCI Compliant?” If the answer is “No”, move on and keep looking. If the answer is “Yes”, ask to see the company’s most recent mandatory SAQ (Self-Assessment Questionnaire) and copies of their required internal and external vulnerability scans and penetration testing. These documents should be readily available and updated at least annually.
As a follow-up question, be sure to ask where callers work. Are they located in a secure facility, or are they working remotely? Some companies try to circumvent PCI Compliance rules by outsourcing agents as independent contractors, claiming they do not fall within the scope of PCI Compliance. This couldn’t be further from the truth and violates the very spirit of PCI Compliance. PCI Compliance (and common sense) dictate that agents handling your donor credit card information must be continuously monitored in a secure environment- something that’s simply not possible in a “virtual call center.”
How do you charge?
You will generally find that most telemarketing companies charge in one of three ways: a percentage of the funds raised, per hour worked, or per decision secured.
At first glance, this might seem like an intriguing proposition with the promise of big financial gain for a set cost and little risk, but any telemarketing company that suggests this form of compensation should set off red flags. Legitimate firms do not charge a percentage, which is a strict violation of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethics. Charging a percentage (or “commission”) creates an inherent conflict-of-interest where there is an incentive to place personal gain over your organization’s mission and long-term goals.
When a telemarketing firm charges per hour, you are charged each hour an agent is on the phone. This time can include training, breaks, and other natural distractions. How can you determine how productive the agents are that you are paying per hour? If a firm proposes this type of compensation, be sure to ask how many decisions per hour you can expect on your campaign so you can measure productivity. The number of decisions per hour, along with the projected percent yes and average gift help you calculate potential profit. The number of decisions per hour also helps you compare other firms that charge per decision.
Many firms charge per decision (or “contact”)- the industry standard. In general, a decision is defined as someone who says either “Yes” or “No.” In this scenario, your organization is charged a flat rate each time a donor makes a decision on the phone. This method ensures that you are only charged for actual work completed, and not for all other calls (such as answering machines and wrong numbers), agent training time, and breaks.
Follow-up questions regarding cost should include, “What’s included in the cost?” “What additional costs will we incur?” and “Is there a set-up fee?”
Is there a contract?
There should be a contract. If there isn’t, you should ask why. Nearly every state in the U.S. requires registration by professional fundraisers in addition to the charities themselves. That registration process almost always requires a contract between the parties, outlining costs and in some cases other very specific parameters. What isn’t mandated is that you must use a vendor for any pre-determined amount of time. Just as with any other legal contract, make sure your legal team reviews it carefully and that is in your organization’s best interest, and it’s probably negotiable.
It’s always best to select an organization that doesn’t require any long-term commitment. You should be happy with the service you receive, but also free to use a different vendor if things don’t work out. Be sure to look out for any extra costs. Are there any additional fees? What about a set-up fee? Are any state registration requirements covered in the cost? Does the company charge postage for any follow-up mail pieces? All costs should be outlined clearly in the contract.
Once the contract is completed and signed by both parties, it should be filed with the state, when required. Be sure to check who is responsible for filing and all registration-related activity.
What is your fundraising philosophy?
You should view your telemarketing firm as an extension of your organization’s membership department, and so should your vendor. The firm’s agents will be talking directly with your most important asset- your donors. Callers should be able to adequately represent your organization, its mission and values.
What is the fundraising firm’s approach to fundraising? Do they use a script? Who will be responsible for creating the script? If the telemarketing firm is creating the script, they should use the similar messaging as the rest of your marketing efforts such as direct mail. You should always be given final approval over any script used to contact your donors.
Telemarketing companies must walk a fine line between financial effectiveness and great public relations. Effective telemarketing professionals are able to tailor conversations to individual donor situations, empathize with donors, and gently persuade them to give. While the goal of a call may be to secure a pledge, never underestimate the importance of good customer service- no matter what the donor decides on the phone. How are callers trained to handle difficult situations or questions they can’t answer?
Before making a decision, can ask vendors for samples of scripts to get a feel for their particular approach. Depending on the firm, they may even allow you to listen to a few sample calls so you can judge the quality of donor interactions.
Once you select a firm and calling begins, be sure to ask the vendor to allow you to monitor some calls (either live calls or recordings) to determine quality. You can also “seed” your calling list with representatives from your organization. Put yourself and colleagues in the calling file and wait for the calls to come in. You’ll be able to evaluate the quality of service with first-hand experiences.
Do you have references I can call?
One of the most effective ways to determine if a telemarketing firm is the right fit for your organization is to check references. Firms should have a readily-available list of clients you can call. The clients should be similar in nature to your organization. In other words, whether you are a museum, a public broadcasting station, a zoo, or a religious organization, potential telemarketing firms should have experience with your type of organization and understand the unique nuances of your donors and non-profit fundraising in general.
When you call, ask references how long they have been working with the vendor. What types of campaigns do they perform? Have they been happy with the results and service they have received? Do plan on continuing to use the telemarketing firm? What, if any, problems have they encountered and how did the firm handle it?
Dig a little further into the qualifications of the firm by asking about their experience. How long have they been in business? Do they predominantly work with non-profit fundraising, or is a lot of their business B2B (business-to-business) calling? How are callers trained? What kind of experience do their individual callers have and what is the average length of employment?
If feasible, another great way to evaluate a potential telemarketing company is to pay a visit and take a tour. Make sure to request a tour during calling hours. Ask for a full tour of the call center floor, listen to calls, and ask to speak with current employees. Ask them what they like most about their job and what they like least. On your tour, pay close attention to the environment (everything from cleanliness to signs and messages). All of these offer clues into the type of company you would be working with. How they treat their employees can offer insight into how they treat their customers.
Finally, ask for a written proposal. Instead of relying exclusively on your notes, a formal proposal is an easy way to check the company’s understanding of your organization and its specific needs. After speaking with a few firms, you can sit down with a fresh perspective and compare proposals. The proposal should include background information on the company, its qualifications, detailed recommendations on telemarketing campaigns, and all related fees. The quality of the proposal and its attention to detail are usually a good indication of the vendor’s quality of service you can expect. After all, this is their first opportunity to impress you.
With some good preparation and by taking the time to ask the right questions and interview potential vendors, you can find the right telemarketing vendor to partner with to help your organization meet its goals.
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