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Why Oxfam’s Tim Hunter is my hero

Why Oxfam’s Tim Hunter is my hero

The recent coverage of telephone fundraising agencies by the Daily Mail was a disaster waiting to happen.

The benefits of telephoning donors are clear. Phone calls give a one-on-one connection, which produces ‘results’ better than direct mail or emails.

But fundraisers have targets to reach, so when they discover that ‘outsourcing’ produces better results, they go for the agency that produces the best return. The agencies are pressed to produce the most donors at the lowest cost, regardless of the feelings of the donor.

  1. Agencies, in many cases, pay the minimum wage. Many callers are remunerated on the basis of cash achieved or number of calls made, regardless of the experience of the donor. (Does anyone do follow up calls that assess the satisfaction of the donor to the phone call?) The only proper payment for call centre staff, is to pay them a salary, or an hourly rate, that incentivises fundraisers to improve donor satisfaction, which we know increases loyalty and life time value.
  2. Their walls should be covered in quotes from donors, not totals of the day’s income raised. That requires a 900 shift in thinking. That would mean callers coming to work thinking about the donors they delight, not the cash they are going to raise. (Then, they will raise more cash in the longer term.)
  3. In my experience, telephone fundraising agencies judge performance on the basis of immediate results, not donor satisfaction.
  4. They use scripts. And, from what I have seen, are trained to use the scripts without diversion. They don’t care that the donor has a contribution to the discussion. The objective is money. Not satisfaction, loyalty and LTV.
  5. Script led calls last six minutes; non-scripted, donor led conversations last seventeen minutes… A great increase in cost-per-call So that’s three times the cost. A strong deciding factor in employing a telephone fundraising agency.
  6. Will the donor feel better after the experience of a call than they did before? This is the litmus test of donor satisfaction.

So who is to blame?

Shamed: charity cold call sharks (Daily Mail front page headline on 7 July 2015)

In my view, not the agencies practising their techniques. But rather the charities appeals staff who are driving the agencies to practice their techniques at minimum cost per pound raised. Appeals staff have targets. Their appeals directors should be looking at financial results, as well as how was the donor experience? The whole responsibility must lie with the appeals director. Who may say they were pressured into short term results by the CEO and trustees.

So why is Tim Hunter my hero?

Tim Hunter is Appeals Director with OXFAM in the UK.

When the recent media storm about inappropriate calling broke, he immediately suspended his external telephone fundraising operation. No inquiry, no consultation. He just did it. That was publicly reported in the Mail. He has written to all Oxfam’s donors – a brilliant letter that acknowledges fault, describes what happened and the measures he had taken.

“We place the highest importance on fundraising standards. We monitor calls, carry out undercover spot checks and make sure our strict guidelines are followed. I’ve personally tested these robust measures to ensure we are operating in the most ethical way.”

“….please don’t hesitate to contact our Supporter Relations team by emailing and I will personally look into any concerns you have.”

I have a real sense that Tim is alongside his donors and is not only managing the whole crisis, but will also handle any complaint himself.

I am sure he will get a terrific response.

Will the donor feel better? Giles Pegram quotation

When, some years ago, NSPCC were implicated in a child death that was widely reported, we wrote to all our donors.

Again, we stated the position, we acknowledged our failings, said what we had done to stop a recurrence. We went one stage further. We asked our donors to give an additional gift to help us through this difficult time. We included a reply envelope.

The response was phenomenal. Much better than any other ‘warm’ mailing we sent in the year. Our donors were on our side. They wanted re-assurance that they had made the right decision in giving through NSPCC. We were honest with them.

They responded. As will Tim’s donors…

If every appeals director in the country followed Tim’s example, put their relations with the agencies on hold while they dealt with the standards, we would lose millions of pounds in income. But we would have contained the situation. As it is, I suspect fundraising in Britain could be damaged irreparably. I believe there is still time. If it were made public that the fundraising industry had suspended all commercial telephone fundraising operations whilst a new MO for telephoning fundraising is created that puts the donor first, then the story would stop. We could then re-establish telephone fundraising but in a new format. We would have lost millions, but protected our future. An exercise that could be done in weeks, not months. I would wager that Tim will find OXFAM’s income bounces back.

Tylenol packets - Niloo on

Photo: Niloo /

In October 1982, seven people died as a result of taking Tylenol, a US analgesic that had 37% of the market. It was established that someone had taken pills off the shelves and injected 65mg of cyanide into the bottles, (enough to kill 10,000 people). Tylenol’s market share dropped from 37% to just 7%.

Tylenol took the drastic route.

– They withdrew 31,000,000 bottles off the shelves.

– They lost $ 100,000,000

– They introduced a product with triple-seal tamper resisting packaging.

The media gave Johnson & Johnson much positive coverage for its handling of the crisis; for example, an article in The Washington Post said, “Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster”. The article further applauded the company for being honest with the public. The share price rebounded in less than a year, a move credited to the company’s prompt and aggressive reaction. They now have the majority of the market.

There is an argument for our taking the drastic route, as Tim Hunter has done. It would take a couple of months to get all our telephone fundraising operations working as the best already do. Some firms will go out of business; others will enter the arena. We may lose money in the short term, but it could protect our moral high ground, raise more in the longer term and stop the Daily Mail getting into long-term fighting mode. Of what do you not want the Mail to carry out an investigation?

Who will follow Tim Hunter?


Copyright 2015 Giles Pegram CBE. July 10th 2015 Revised July 12th 2015.

As Appeals Director of NSPCC at 29, Giles set up the Centenary Appeal which was a record at the time. Giles grew NSPCC’s voluntary income from No. 15 in the CAF table to No. 3. The FULL STOP Appeal raised £274,000,000. This remains a record.   Giles was vice-chair of the Commission on the Donor Experience, an initiative aimed at transforming fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. He is now working to implement its recommendations. He has also re-launched himself as a consultant. Giles was ‘UK Professional Fundraiser of the Year 1994’ and received the ‘Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising’ award in 2002.

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