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The future for not-for-profit organisations: How to build a long-term donor community

Top tip: Find a common ground.

There are around 600,000 not-for-profit (NFP) organisations in Australia. They contribute more than $40 billion to gross domestic product (GDP) every year, employ over 800,000 people, and receive about $11 billion in donations annually.

That level of productivity doesn’t happen by accident. Relationship building is at the heart of the NFP industry and charities live on their ability to create long-term relationships with their donors.

However, this doesn’t come cheap and NFPs constantly struggle with the need to reduce their administration costs in order to maximise their social spending. This has led to many NFPs outsourcing their call centre operations to aggressive telemarketing firms that have saturated the market.

In fact, a national survey recently revealed that one in four Australians receive unwanted calls from charities on a weekly basis. That’s created higher levels of donor fatigue, with more Australians turning away from philanthropy.

Many Australian NFPs are now between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the increasingly desperate need for funds to assist in their areas of interest. The hard place is identifying how to generate these funds without alienating donors.

That’s where the virtual work model comes in. Running a virtual workforce allows businesses to reduce the overhead costs of maintaining a bricks-and-mortar business in order to provide a price-competitive telemarketing service to Australian charities.

Finding common ground

But price isn’t the heart of the matter here. The virtual model allows you to employ Australia-based agents from a diverse range of backgrounds and experience. That is, you are not limited to employing only the agents within commuting distance to a bricks-and-mortar office.

You have the ability to employ people who live in remote locations, older Australians who value the flexibility of virtual work, and people with mobility issues or carers of people with disabilities who have much to contribute to the workforce but may find it difficult to commute to a physical office.

The result is a diverse workforce with agents that come from a wide range of backgrounds and bring together many different perspectives. This allows workers to better connect with the Australian public, because they are a true representative sample of the Australian public.

The benefit of this can’t be under-stated. By identifying genuine common ground with donors, agents don’t simply illicit donations, but rather build relationships that are based on shared experience. Agents and donors are part of the same communities and are all interested in working together to make those communities better.

This runs far deeper than an adversarial telemarketer-to-target relationship that is simply about generating the most funds in the shortest amount to time. Rather, aim to invite donors to be part of an inclusive community and begin a life-long philanthropic journey that is based on our shared experience and understanding.

Building a stable foundation

Of course, that’s only possible if you are able to retain your employees long enough for them to build such relationships.

First, we must face the fact that the NFP sector has a high staff turnover rate. Many traditional call centres are staffed by university students, backpackers or others going through transitional periods in their careers. That means none tend to stick around for very long.

I credit our strong staff retention rate largely on the virtual work model. By providing the work flexibility many people desire, our employees can more easily achieve the work/life balance so many of us crave.

But that, also, doesn’t happen by accident. To create a successful virtual workforce, you must embrace an entirely new management philosophy. For example, we have put measures in place – such as our daily virtual catch-ups – to ensure our virtual agents feel connected to the team and don’t suffer from feeling isolated.

We also closely track KPI metrics to ensure our high-performing agents are acknowledged and rewarded, and to identify when agents need extra support so nobody ever feels overwhelmed or alone.

Get it right and you’ll build a loyal, engaged workforce that is capable of building an inclusive, diverse community of long-term donors who are motivated to not just give, but also to participate in making Australia and the world a better place for all.

Ruth MacKay is the founder and managing director of OURTEL Solutions where she manages a 100 per cent virtual workforce

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