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Telephone Town Halls Strengthen Donor Relationships Even More During The Pandemic

In this time of uncertainty, we are all trying to maintain our connections. Whether with family, friends, or work, we are often relying on virtual tools to make that happen.

For organizations that rely on donor support, sometimes those virtual tools can feel inadequate. Membership outreach through direct mail, or digital channels like email are not the same as an in-person event or one-on-one conversation. Zoom and Facebook are fine but people have to plan and remember to log on to the event.

But what about a phone call from the CEO of the organization?

That is how Telephone Town Halls began for the Ocean Conservancy, an advocacy organization that combines scientific, legal and policy expertise to champion marine health, ocean protection, sustainable fisheries and ecosystem management.

After careful planning, a call with a recording from CEO Janis Searles Jones goes out to a field of some 24,000 supporters inviting them to join the Telephone Town Hall — and the majority who answer say, “yes.”

In fact, Telephone Town Halls have long been an important link between Ocean Conservancy’s leadership, its scientists and the donors who help support their work.

“Being invited to hear directly from our CEO about the direction of our organization — that means everything to our donors,” said Jessica Schoenig, Planned Giving Officer at Ocean Conservancy. “They are able to have that connection with our high-level scientists and program staff.”

Their last event was a huge success. From a field of 24,000, 7,200 supporters answered the phone and roughly 3,900 people participated in the Telephone Town Hall. The response rate for people who were reached, and that stayed on the call, was more than 54 percent.

“You generally don’t get those kinds of returns in direct mail.” said Charlotte Meyer, Director of Planned Giving at Ocean Conservancy. “When you engage people to listen to five minutes of a crucial message, that is impactful. That’s big for us.”

Since 2017 the organization has conducted five – soon to be six — Telephone Town Halls, including one that raised $8,000 during the call.

“We always work with Stones’ Phones,” said Meyer, “Our events improve every time because of how well we work with their staff and the capacity we build internally.

“It’s really an easy model once you learn it.”

Now, Ocean Conservancy wants to build on that success during its next Telephone Town Hall in early June.

One of the group’s fundraising metrics of success is conducting face-to-face meetings as an opportunity to connect with their donors. But, as for many organizations, those opportunities have been postponed for the remainder of the year as all non-essential travel is canceled.

“The goal for this has been to form personal connections, and having a really great way to give donors more substance,” said Meyer. “When donors understand the work we do, and the ‘how’ and the ‘why,’ they are likely to feel closer to us and increase their giving over time.”


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