CDE project 11e tele­phone: case study — Save the Children

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 21, 2017

Following the events of summer 2015, Save the Children paused all outbound telephone fundraising activity for a little under a year. During the course of 2016, Save the Children underwent a thorough review of their telephone fundraising and in mid-2016, the team tested and then successfully rolled out a complete re-shaping of their telephone fundraising program. Rather than test one campaign, this was a blanket change for the program and all campaigns are now managed in line with this new approach.  

The goal was to create a very supporter centric experience, driving increased loyalty and engagement, while minimising any potential shortfall in funds generated. Save the Children did this through a combination of the following factors: single agency selection and close relationship management, supporter centric planning, scripting and ask structures, preference captures, vastly increased training and engagement for fundraisers, significant levels of fundraiser monitoring and the implementation of a supporter feedback mechanism.

Agency Selection 

Save the Children opted to implement a partnership approach with a single agency. They felt that, rather than having a number of small campaigns with various suppliers, they had the best chance of success and accountability by partnering with one single agency. This provided the best opportunity to provide (a) increased levels of oversight and tighter management; (b) more in depth and tailored fundraiser training and engagement (making fundraisers an extension of the Save the Children team and bringing them closer to our work); (c) reduced campaign costs and efficiencies in campaign management.

Supporter Centricity

Supporter centricity was at the heart of every decision which influenced the design of the new approach. Firstly, the maximum number of call attempts per supporter was drastically reduced to six, with a supporter unable to receive more than one call per day or be included in more than two campaigns per year. 

Secondly, scripting was re-designed. Traditionally fundraisers were provided with scripts that had a singular pre-determined theme. Scripts were changed into conversation guidelines which were supporter / fundraiser led. Save the Children provided guidelines around 11 different creative themes and fundraisers were encouraged to find out what supporters could be interested in, to discuss on that call. If a supporter had no preference, fundraisers were encouraged to deliver a topic they were passionate about – resulting in conversational and impassioned calls.

Thirdly, fundraisers were barred from making three direct debit asks in a phone call. They were able to make three financial asks (for different products) but in practice this very rarely occurred. Fundraisers were empowered to offer multiple different products: DD, cash, RG via mobile and three non-financial outcomes. We encouraged them to base their ask structures on the conversations they were having with a supporter. Thus, the ask structure was as flexible as the script.

Preference Captures

Throughout the call, questions were asked of supporters about their interest in Save the Children (in order to tailor the script), however we also developed the ability to import this information from the agency in order to tailor future communications with individual supporters based upon their interests.

Training and Engagement

In order for fundraisers to follow this very flexible approach in terms of scripting and ask structures, training was hugely increased. Fundraisers underwent six hours of training on various topics ranging from our work with children to identifying potentially vulnerable adults, before they were allowed to make their first phone calls. 

After this, they joined a program of regular training by members of staff from across Save the Children (supporter care, campaigns, humanitarian communications, humanitarian leadership, child safeguarding etc.). Each individual fundraiser has received over 25 hours of training from Save the Children staff, resulting in an incredibly well versed fundraising team that can talk confidently about a variety of issues.

Engagement of fundraisers does not end with training however. Save the Children uses an online portal to stay in contact with fundraisers on a day to day basis. This provides fundraisers with the opportunities to ask questions when they need clarification; it also allows staff to update fundraisers with relevant information in real time. Finally, it acts as a knowledge bank which fundraisers can use to gain additional information about specific elements of our work (e.g. Child Friendly Spaces) – they can use this approved material in phone calls if they feel it is relevant. 


To ensure that quality standards are met, Save the Children listens to and scores a significantly increased volume of calls. The calls are randomly selected by Save the Children and on average internal staff listen to and score approximately 4.5% of all calls made on a week to week basis. Feedback on calls is provided to the agency about fundraiser call quality via a weekly scorecard which is then passed back to the fundraisers via agency trainers. 

Supporter Feedback

Save the Children added a method by which supporters can provide feedback on their calls in the form of an SMS survey – highlighting that they are “very satisfied” with their experience.


  • Save the Children established that despite a significantly ‘softer’ and warmer fundraising approach, financial results remained largely unaffected – with certain campaigns actually achieving stronger financial results than before the test.
  • Changes required involvement from teams across the organisation (which also lay outside of Individual Giving); a key learning was that when all teams buy into en masse changes, big successes are possible.
  • Sometimes it is worth looking at macro scale changes to your approach rather than testing micro scale changes to see their impact in isolation. The impact of one specific change in Save the Children’s approach cannot be measured – it’s the overarching changes to everything that made the difference.
  • Complaints were drastically reduced. Over the 28,000 contacts made in 2016, Save the Children received 3 complaints about telephone fundraising. None of which were caused by fundraiser malpractice.


  • Changing backend processes can cause resistance from teams internally. Senior leadership buy-in is necessary in order for such changes to be pushed through.
  • Creating new habits, particularly around monitoring and engaging fundraisers can be difficult – giving people as much of a heads up as possible and not rushing anything will give you the best chance to succeed with an entirely new approach. Often culture change is required.

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About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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