by Mark Mitchell
Vice President of Business Development

Nonprofit organizations are always looking for new and innovative ways to attract and acquire new donors. The traditional way of doing it – direct mail – brings in a very small return, and until recently, acquiring new donors by phone was cost-prohibitive for most organizations; it just wasn’t profitable enough to justify the expense.

But now, because of Care2, and other online petition sources, a growing number of organizations are enjoying successful and flourishing telephone acquisition campaigns that convert “Web Activist Non-Donors” to monthly sustainers.

There is definitely an art to this process, and the first and most important thing to keep in mind is that this type of program will only work in the context of a sustainer campaign. Targeting Web Activists with a one-time gift campaign, with an average gift of $25, will not cover the cost. Strategically designed sustainer campaigns on the other hand, with an average monthly gift of $10 or higher, have proven wildly successful in acquiring Web Activists, who view it as a manageable amount to pay each month for a cause they truly believe in, yet over the course of a year, they are making a total commitment of $120 to the organization, which, over time, covers the cost of the campaign and then some.

SD&A’s National Call Center specializes in Web Activist acquisition campaigns and routinely delivers an average sustainer rate of 2.5%-3%, often times higher, sometimes up to 10%. On average, another 6%-9% of Web Activist Non-Donors will make a one-time gift when called. In most cases, this type of calling program will pay for itself in less than two years.

Even still, some organizations are reluctant to use telefundraising, especially acquisition telefundraising, because they fear it will take money away from their other marketing channels. I like to think of acquisition calling as the last line of defense. You’ve already mailed them, you’ve already emailed them, and they still haven’t donated. So what do you do? You call them. If you don’t call them, it’s lost revenue.

For the past five years, SD&A has been managing a sustainer acquisition program for a national, nonprofit environmental organization. In that time, we’ve called more than 2 million petition signers from Care2 on behalf of this organization. These were non-donors who signed a variety of petitions supporting the organization’s causes. Of all the Web Activists we reached, we were able to convert 2.5% of them into monthly givers with an average sustainer gift of $11 a month. For this organization, telephone acquisition calling has not only turned out to be cost-effective, but extremely profitable as well.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s an art to this process. After a Web Activist Non-Donor signs an online petition, that person will receive a series of three emails to on-board them into the organization’s acquisition program. The first email is an engagement survey with a membership ask on the back end. The second email is an action alert with a donation ask on the back end. The third email is a straight up appeal for a donation. As part of this process, Web Activists are entered into a campaign arc designed to move them up a ladder of engagement (from signing a petition to participating in a phone tree to attending a protest event, for example), and when the time is right, they will get a phone call inviting them to become a monthly donor.

When calling Web Activist Non-Donors, it’s important to remember that some organizations have the benefit of strong name recognition, while others do not. In many cases, Web Activists have signed a petition because of a specific cause (like helping Syrian children or fighting to stop oil drilling in the Arctic) and not because of the organization itself. In this scenario, the script should open with the subject matter, referencing the specific cause first – the reason they signed the petition – before getting into where we’re calling from.

Another strategy is to only call “super activists”, those who have signed at least three (preferably five) petitions in a 12-month period. Or sometimes, organizations will choose to call “recent advocates”, those who have signed a petition within the past month.

We’ve also found that this type of calling works best when the messaging remains fluid. We were surprised to learn, for example, that many Web Activists who first became involved with the organization when they signed a Clean Energy petition eventually joined as monthly donors because of an animal/wildlife message that had nothing to do with the Clean Energy petition.

Even when donors say no to a monthly gift over the phone, we’ve discovered that Web Activist calling is still beneficial because it helps to drive higher overall giving rates online and through the mail. Experience tells us that donors are ten times more likely to give to the organization through another channel, even if they say no over the phone.

To learn more on how your organization can benefit from a telephone acquisition campaign, please contact Mark Mitchell at or (323) 810-0134.