SD&A Q&A WITH CAROLINE MENDEZ – VICE PRESIDENT OF CLIENT SERVICES, NATIONAL CALL CENTER

Our Director of Communications recently sat down with Caroline to discuss the role of technology in the National Call Center, the secret to successful long-term partnerships with clients, the best leadership advice she’s ever received, her foodie superpower, and Homer. 

SD&A: What do you enjoy most about your job as Vice President of Client Services?

Caroline: Well, at the risk of sounding trite, I’d have to say the people I have the pleasure of working with, both at SD&A and within our industry. I mean, I wouldn’t have spent over 10 years building a career in client service if I didn’t feed off the energy of partnering and collaborating with other passionate people.

This year I’ll be celebrating my 8th year at SD&A. For the majority of my tenure here, I’ve worked with the same core group of people. We’ve faced our fair share of challenges together and grown as a team, and by extension, we’ve been able to grow the strength of our business, our brand and our product. I’m incredibly proud of that.

Outside of the company, I work in a relatively small industry where everyone kind of knows everyone. They are some of the most kind, genuine and fun people I’ve ever met. Some I consider to be very close friends. The relationships I’ve built, and the way they feed into my ability to continuously find ways to better partner with my clients, to innovate, to evolve, is very gratifying and fulfilling for me. Every night I get to leave the office knowing that my peers and I have made an impact in our mission to serve the world around us and make it a better place. I feel very lucky to have such a rewarding role that I get to call my “job.”

SD&A has enduring partnerships with many prominent organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the Special Olympics. In your opinion, what is it about our approach as a company that helps us foster long-term relationships with clients?


Our business is built on a client-centric model. Whenever I’m on the road meeting with clients, I always get positive feedback about our service. And that isn’t me tooting my own horn either. I have an unbelievable team that I rave about constantly. They’re very good at making the company, and me, look good.

I frequently hear that SD&A is more accommodating and flexible than many of our competitors. I believe that’s because we focus on being a partner with our clients, not a vendor. There’s a very clear distinction. We don’t see ourselves as just their telefundraiser. We start every client relationship with the intention of fostering long term partnerships. We measure their goals, their intentions, their plans and we utilize our deep pool of experience to create a path that extends beyond just a campaign.

We take the responsibility of serving our clients very seriously. Every person on our team, from the callers to the operations staff and beyond, is not just here to service a client. They usually end up at our doorstep looking to join our team because they’ve been to our website and seen all of the meaningful causes we serve. They come with a passion to make a difference and end up finding a fast-paced, demanding environment that is also very rewarding. We work hard because we want see our clients grow and we do it because we intend to be there for every step of that journey. And guess what – we actually manage to have a lot of fun doing it!

How significant a role does technology play in the success of National Call Center campaigns?

Technology plays a major role in our campaigns on so many levels. I give a lot of credit to our IT department because they capitalize on every resource we have, even if it means a lot of extra work on their part, to accommodate a client or help the call center. When it comes to data, we always ask clients to give us more rather than less. The more the better. We can then utilize that with our own database and knowledge to better strategize for their campaigns. Data modeling and segmentation analysis is a big part of what we do.

In terms of new technological features, we recently upgraded the equipment in our fulfillment mail center, which will enable us to print on demand. This will give us a greater ability to test our fulfillment mail, which was very limited when we were working with an outsourced mail house. Another benefit is that we can now send fulfillment notices by email.

We’ve also expanded our abilities in how we take payments. We can now live-charge payments to cut down on decline rates and improve overall fulfillment. Let’s be honest, in fundraising every dollar counts. All of these changes make a tremendous difference when added together. Some of these things are very rudimentary and some are more advanced, but they all make a difference. Later this year, we’ll be making even more technological upgrades.

What is the best and the worst business or leadership advice you’ve ever received?

The best leadership advice I ever received, and I think it’s actually the best life advice I’ve ever received, is to always be open to feedback. Good, bad, ugly. To know your weaknesses and to grow from them is a tremendous part of evolving as a person. When one is most challenged in life, personally or professionally, being able to hear that feedback without taking it personally and then tracing a path forward usually ends in success. Whether it’s with people on your team, the people above you, or clients, I always try to check in on how I’m doing and learn what I can do better.

And now to take off my Tony Robbins hat, I’m not sure I’ve ever received outright bad business advice. I do recall seeing leadership examples earlier in my career that stand out as counterproductive, like creating cultures that are punitive or focused on blame rather than focusing on solutions. I always try to keep that in mind with my team, ensuring that we’re all moving in the same direction toward the same goal. I think it’s critical to have the buy-in of the folks that also work hard around you. If someone is personally invested in your mission, it exponentially improves your chances of achieving it.

What do you do for enjoyment when you’re not working?

For one, I have a superpower. It’s picking the perfect restaurant. Anyone who has traveled with me can attest to this. I believe the first person to confirm this would be my boss, our company president Steve Koehler. I love trying new restaurants and new foods, whether it’s a divey taco joint or a five star meal. In addition to being a faithful foodie, I’m a huge sports nut. My favorite seasons are March Madness and football season. Then of course there’s Homer. Anyone who knows me knows that the center of my universe is my little 15-pound Pomeranian Chihuahua. I travel quite often and might work late from time to time. Sometimes there’s nothing better than just spending the day hanging out with my dog. He’s a spa goer, has a wardrobe, and eats better than I do. Needless to say, he may very well be the most spoiled dog on the planet.

SUBSCRIPTION SALES AND FUNDRAISING JUST GOT AN UPGRADE

THE NEW ARTS TELECENTER EAST IS SD&A’s STATE-OF-THE-ART PHONE ROOM IN THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN ATLANTA

Located in a charming historic building in the vibrant Fairlie-Poplar district, ATC EAST offers a personal touch not found at large, off-site call centers. This boutique phone room emulates the proven, on-site campaign model that has been generating revenue for SD&A clients since 1983.

Supervised by an experienced campaign manager and staffed by callers who are expertly versed in the arts, ATC EAST provides a cost-effective solution for arts organizations that are unable to host an on-site campaign.

ATC EAST callers are divided into teams, and each team is dedicated to specific campaigns, allowing us to capitalize on each caller’s proven skill sets and their expertise in various artistic disciplines. This fosters a strong allegiance between our callers and the clients they serve – almost as if the callers were working at the client’s home location.

Equipped with the latest technology, ATC EAST is powered by our propriety lead management software, which dramatically increases the efficiency of our campaigns, boosting contact rates by 20% to as much as 100%.

SD&A has conducted many successful campaigns for our clients at ATC EAST. Our increased capacity at the new location provides the opportunity to partner with new organizations to help them meet their revenue goals.

THREE MAJOR NONPROFIT TRENDS FOR 2017

by Gloria Horsley

Dr. Gloria Horsley is Founder of Open to Hope Foundation, a community where people can find hope after loss through forums and more.

(Republished from Forbes.com. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.)

From operations and technology to marketing and fundraising, there are many trends shaping the nonprofit sector that I’ve seen firsthand at my own foundation and in the strategy we’ve laid out to achieve in 2016.

It’s important to start looking ahead to the new year when you are in the throes of annual budget planning. With that in mind, here are some of the areas our organization is focusing on based on key trends that your nonprofit may also want to consider:

Humanize Your Marketing

Many marketing trends for traditional businesses have become important for nonprofits too, which also need to improve engagement with their audiences and donors. While we have to be sensitive in terms of the stories we share, storytelling will become one of the most important marketing tools for us in 2017 because it provides a way to connect with the emotions that help drive donor engagement and ongoing support. Our audience is then able to feel how they are assisting those that come to our nonprofit for help and that then drives them to continue providing financial support and  time.

Live streaming video is a great way to tell these stories as well, using Periscope, YouTube Live, and Facebook Live. Another approach for this authentic storytelling is user-generated content. We plan to make this an even larger portion of our content marketing in 2017 just for the very fact that it offers a way to personalize those stories and have them resonate more with our audience.

Influencer marketing will also take on a larger role, as we can rally advocates of our nonprofit organization to endorse what we are doing with their social circles. The result is that the trust that these circles place in these influencers can move them to act and become donors and volunteers themselves. Next year will be about identifying those influencers and then building up relationships with them to create awareness.

Recommended by Forbes

Use Mobile Technology To Simplify Donations

Mobile is a favorite of our donors, just as it is for many people when they are looking to communicate and participate with others. That’s why we plan on using more mobile communication, particularly with emails that now tend to be opened more often on a smartphone or tablet versus anywhere else. We are also planning on taking advantage of integrating a payment button directly into our emails to increase donations. This idea may be taken a step further, as another new trend is accepting payments through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

Combined with a greater use of mobile wallets among our donors, we believe 2017 may deliver increased donations if we leverage all this technology and offer it so the ease of use stimulates the willingness to give more money more often.

Seek Fresh Perspectives And A Human Connection

One of our main goals in 2017 is the trend to look year round for board members that can provide fundraising and networking expertise. Specifically, we’re looking to millennials and Generation Xers who are focused on social causes and are well-connected with others who are passionate about social good. We’ve started focusing on both groups within our donor pools and using networking sites to identify candidates who can provide a fresh perspective to our board.

With all the online opportunities we have available to us, it’s easy to think that technology is the only way, but the need for authenticity in 2017 also means a return to the basics and a focus on the humanistic aspect of being and running a nonprofit. For my organization, this back-to-basics approach is focused on creating a culture that is in touch with human emotions and is run by a skilled staff that is enthusiastic about what we are trying to do. Our focus will also involve personal contact with our donors, including in person and by phone, to make that human connection even stronger and more authentic.

BIG CHANGES FOR SD&A IN ATLANTA

We are pleased to announce that our Atlanta-based phone room, Arts Telecenter East, will soon be moving. The new and improved ATC East will open in January in the heart of downtown Atlanta’s Fairlie-Poplar district, close to Centennial Park, the Rialto Center for the Arts and the Balzer Theater at Herren’s.

Located in a historic building constructed in 1930, our new space is larger and much nicer than our current phone room. It will be equipped with the latest phone technology, offering us increased capacity and greater efficiency.

SD&A operates two Arts Telecenters: ATC East in Atlanta and ATC West in Los Angeles. These intimate, fully computerized, “boutique” phone rooms emulate the proven, on-site campaign model that has been generating revenue for SD&A clients since 1983. Supervised by experienced campaign managers and staffed by callers who are expertly versed in the arts, ATC campaigns provide a solution for arts organizations that are unable to host an on-site campaign.

Greenpeace Sails Ahead with Help from SD&A Fundraisers

SD&A’s National Call Center now handles a large portion of Greenpeace’s calling programs, and we are also developing new monthly programs for the organization, including cold calls, welcome thank you calls to new monthly givers, and outreach calls to current sustainers to dissuade them from cancelling their monthly gifts. At any given moment, there are 12 to 17 active Greenpeace campaigns running on our dialer!

Greenpeace is the leading independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.

HOLISTIC CUSTOMER SERVICE: DON’T JUST MAKE SALES; MAKE CUSTOMERS FOR LIFE.

Ilonka Salisbury, a customer service expert with over 30 years of experience training fundraising and marketing professionals at some of the nation’s largest performing arts organizations, has teamed up with SD&A to conduct specialized training workshops in the art of Holistic Customer Service, a technique that transforms the effectiveness of, the cohesion between, and the very essence of outbound calls, inbound calls, and face-to-face interactions with patrons at the box office.

Experience tells us that arts organizations can create new customers and increase sales through relationship building and conversation. This is Ilonka Salisbury’s core focus and area of expertise. “Don’t just make sales,” she instructs.  “Make customers for life.”

Holistic Customer Service emphasizes empathy and personalized connections based on the commonalities that make us human. Kindness, graciousness and gratitude are the guiding principles of this methodology. It is rooted in the simple notion that all of us, no matter who we are, respond positively to being treated with respect, and consequently, wish to continue being a part of any such relationship.

Our training workshops are customized to align with your specific organizational goals. The tools that your representatives will be given are not scripted responses; rather, our workshops offer intuitive insight into how your representatives can tap into their own natural instincts to best serve the needs of the patron and the organization.

Through in-depth, in-person training sessions, your representatives will learn how to:

  • employ empathy to build a bridge in every conversation.
  • follow an effective “road map” to help guide the conversation.
  • remove the stigmas associated with sales and telemarketing.
  • be caring, helpful and delightful ambassadors for your organization.
  • understand who they are speaking with (and when to use or not use jargon).
  • develop the patience required to let customers say whatever they need or want to say.
  • pick up on the subtleties of the dialogue instead of diving right into the sale (by listening to what patrons are not saying).
  • use positive, engaging and active language versus passive language.
  • answer questions without sounding obnoxious or off-putting.
  • eliminate inhibitions.
  • effectively diffuse a conversation if it escalates.
  • strengthen their attentiveness, knowledge of the product, and passion for it.

Our training workshops are designed to give your organization a working foundation in the philosophies and best practices of Holistic Customer Service, which can be used for the ongoing training of current representatives and for future hires as well.

For additional information, contact:

Mary Jane Avans  |  mjavans@sdatel.com  |  (678) 904-1583

A Ringing Endorsement from a Longtime Client

WHYY is Greater Philadelphia’s leading public media provider. In the current issue of its membership newsletter, Connections, WHYY promotes the value and importance of SD&A’s telemarketing services. Three of our top-notch telephone agents from the National Call Center are featured in the accompanying photo (left to right: Gina Holmes, Wayne Harpe and ClarWHYY 4ence Tolliver).

Why is WHYY calling me?

Telemarketing at WHYY is one of the many ways we engage and involve our members. Our goal is to actively converse with our members in a non-invasive way. This safe, secure fundraising tool is used primarily to renew memberships, make additional gifts, fix lapsed memberships, update credit information, welcome new sustainers and offer sustainer upgrades. These campaigns help to provide support for the programming that you enjoy. We invite you to pick up the phone and join the conversation!

HOW SD&A HELPED HILLARY MAKE HISTORY

BY AURELIA FRIEDMAN

With Hillary Clinton becoming the first presumptive female presidential nominee for a major party this week, I’ve been feeling especially proud of the active role that SD&A has played in the success of her campaign. In addition to the outstanding fundraising calls we make on her behalf from our National Call Center, we recently had an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and support Hillary’s campaign in a different and altogether exciting way.

hillary clinton nevada caucus

Caroline Mendez and Aurelia Friedman (second row on the left behind Hillary Clinton) at Nevada Caucus victory rally in February 2016

On Saturday, February 20, I got up long before the crack of dawn and joined three other members of SD&A’s National Call Center team for a five-hour road trip from L.A. to Vegas. We were headed there for a rare and untraditional type of party: to help our client win the Nevada caucus.

Once we got to Hillary’s Nevada campaign headquarters, we were immediately immersed in the urgency and excitement of the race. Everyone was running in all different directions, making sure everything was covered. We were told to meet one of the precinct captains at a local middle school and help guide supporters to the caucus site. Once we arrived there, we found out our precinct captain was Wendy Greuel, a former Los Angeles City Controller and Councilmember. We instantly felt at home and got into the groove of what we do best—making the strongest pitches possible on our client’s behalf. We talked to all types of people and got to experience firsthand the broad diversity of Hillary’s base.

Aurelia and Cindy

Cindy Davis and Aurelia at caucus site

Later in the day, we went straight from our caucus volunteer site to Secretary Clinton’s official victory rally and were brought up on the stage right behind her. We started getting phone calls from our call center colleagues saying that they saw all of us on CNN! Dionne Johnson, one of our campaign supervisors, got a great picture with Hillary that she sent to her mother in Arkansas. Cindy Davis, another one of our campaign supervisors, got a photo with Hillary as well and found out the next day that a picture of all of us on stage behind Hillary had been published in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. Caroline Mendez, SD&A’s vice president of client services, referred to the experience as one of the happiest moments of her life. The energy in the room was exhilarating and I felt like I was part of something that mattered.

Aurelia and Caroline

Aurelia and Caroline at victory rally

At SD&A, we take every action with our clients foremost in mind and it brings us great satisfaction when we see our fundraising efforts come to life. The funds that our callers raised over the phone for Hillary’s campaign were used to pay for the lawn signs that we put in front of the caucus sites (a few of which now proudly hang from the ceiling of our call center), the t-shirts we wore at the caucus and the victory rally, and the stickers we distributed to Hillary’s supporters.

We are proud to have had the opportunity to join our client, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on the campaign trail, and we are looking forward to raising even more money on her behalf through our National Call Center to help ensure her victory in November.