Back to where it began, Telephone Fundraising … but all is not exactly as I left it.

Back to where it began, Telephone Fundraising … but all is not exactly as I left it.

“Good afternoon, my name is Andy McSorley, I hope you are well, and I was hoping you may have a minute or two for a short conversation about … well … me, and more importantly Purity Fundraising?”

I made my first professional fundraising call in 2006, with a paper script, an analogue phone with the receiver in hand, and absolutely no idea that I was at the start of a 16-year career as a professional fundraiser. Over the following 8 years, scripts became digitised, digital phones with dialler software and headsets were integrated and the diversification of campaigns was beginning with SMS and Lead Gen campaigns started to reveal the direction of travel. July of 2014 was the last time I directly managed a team of telephone fundraisers, and it was an evolving practice at that time.

At that point I pivoted to other areas of professional fundraising, taking in education on door-to-door, private site, event fundraising and steeping myself in the world of fundraising compliance. At all times, my ear was never far away from a welcome call or newly created telephone campaigns, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. I never really stopped creating materials, call listening or being involved with the telephone side of professional fundraising.

I am therefore delighted to have recently joined Purity Fundraising, as the Head of Fundraising. Getting back to what I love to do, where better than an award-winning fundraising company, with the lowest complaint rate in the sector.

Purity has an unwavering focus on supporter focussed calls and a genuine commitment to the support, development, and well-being of fundraisers. That was truly a call that I was delighted to receive and here I sit, eight weeks in, having made the right decision to join a wonderful organisation.

My initial reflection on my return to a telephone fundraising environment is:

“Everything changes … and nothing changes”

There are still things true of telephone fundraising, and I imagine were true from the first-ever fundraising phone call. The work when done well continues to be about proper human engagement, listening and responding naturally, making the case for support with empathy and purpose; about knowing the subject matter and caring about it. It’s about resilience, determination, and compassion. Without all of these elements, telephone fundraising cannot be successful, and in my time in post so far, I am thrilled to have encountered countless examples of these – so no change there then.

Charities still have a financial need of course, but beyond that, the extent of stewardship, supporter focussed outcomes and non-financial calling holds just as valued a place these days. This development makes for a much stronger, less transactional, relationship between the charity and fundraising partner. This was brought into sharp focus when realising the true extent of just how much I have to learn about our numerous offerings and campaigns – not only telephone-based but now digital strategies and wider consultancy projects.

Of course, an obvious physical difference is the environment change, from the live call floor to remote/hybrid working. This means our lovely office in Brighton, has up to 15 regular attendees but is quite a different place given that remote/hybrid working sees much of our 100+ strong fundraising team working off-site. Remote being the operative word, with Purity fundraisers now ranging in location from Dundee to Belfast, Cardiff and in many towns and cities in between.

The change has brought about opportunities to diversify and expand Purity’s team and has taught us how to make this modern world smaller, to try and replicate the energy and rapport of the call floor through Teams, e-mails, and GIFs … so many GIFs!

For the time being, the vibrant, and oftentimes deafening, hum of the live fundraising environment, is not the current state of play, and who knows when or if it will be again. One big advantage to remote working is that we must be extra vigilant to ensure everyone has the tools and support they need to do the job. I have found myself having many more one-to-one conversations across the entire Purity team, than I may have had if we were all in one place. It has enabled me to make connections that otherwise might have been lighter or taken longer, a change for which I am thankful.

In the third sector, there is always pressure. Pressure to deliver services, to survive even, to keep up with ever-rising needs and to fundraise to meet that demand. Previously, it may well have been the case that this pressure was manifested in a narrow focus and unsustainable way. On my return at Purity, this has altered, not organically, but intentionally and for the better.

The fundraising must be successful, and some of the metrics by which success is measured are of course still relevant and important, they must be. The keyword being ‘some’ and more importantly what constitutes success.

There is no doubt in my mind that the focus at Purity begins and ends with the word Respect. We respect our clients, our fundraisers, each other and the supporters we speak to. This enables us to invest in fundraisers with detailed training and extensive ongoing support. Also, to be a true partner to our clients and design campaigns together, that have all parties’ best interests at heart. This all goes towards our aim that every supporter we engage with receives a call that leaves their day better for having had the call – regardless of the financial outcome.

With all of this said, is it fair then to assert that: “Everything changes … and nothing changes”

I believe so, in so much as my first weeks at Purity feels like returning to a familiar place and getting stuck back into all the things I have always connected with and enjoyed about telephone fundraising. As for everything changing? The broader and more diverse spectrum of telephone fundraising campaigns that are now so much more integrated into wider fundraising strategies, that have been married so naturally and successfully with digital channels, and all this combined with the remote working atmosphere, certainly has me in fresh territory and I couldn’t be more excited.

One thing, after 16 years that has not changed, and I dare say, never will, is how much enjoyment, stimulation, and pride I take in working in telephone fundraising.

 Written by, Andy Mcsorley