Cambridge telephone campaigns and major giving programmes: more similar than you think?

Cambridge telephone campaigns and major giving programmes: more similar than you think?

Guest Bloggers | 21 October 2015

Running an Oxbridge college’s annual telephone campaign is certainly one of the more unique ways to spend a fortnight.

It’s an intensive two weeks, motivating undergraduates to smash targets and secure pledges from alumni based all over the world, at every hour of the day and night – not to mention the months on either side of planning, data preparation and follow-up. At first glance, the experience doesn’t seem like it has much relevance to major gifts management for a national cancer charity. But since moving into that field at Prostate Cancer UK, I’ve certainly found that the key lessons I picked up in the student call room have proved more helpful than I expected.

1. A sense of community

Feeling like part of a group is crucial to securing initial gifts and long-term commitment from donors – particularly if it’s a group they are proud to be part of. This is, in many ways, easier for academic fundraisers: most former students already have a strong emotional connection to the place they spent “the best years of their lives,” their close friends are often still those they met during their studies, and there’s a real sense of college pride. Plenty of former rowers were asking current students if the team had triumphed over their traditional rivals that year…!

This sense of a close-knit network with a strong identity can be applied to very different organisations. From Terrence Higgins Trust’s Friends to Prostate Cancer UK’s Pioneers, a high-level giving club – with plenty of opportunities to meet with one’s fellow members  – can quickly make new donors feel part of a special and exclusive community.

2. Tangible impact

Whether it was funding a choral student’s scholarship or building a new Boathouse, donors could specify exactly where they wanted their money to go. Further, alumni were reassured that their money wasn’t disappearing into the bursary vaults; within a few months, they could see the direct effects of their support on individual students and the college’s architecture.

Although fundraisers at larger charities are often under pressure to source unrestricted income, offering accountability and frequent updates to donors on specific projects their contribution has helped to fund is invaluable. If donors have clear evidence that their financial investment is ‘paying off,’ they are much more likely to keep giving.

3. Institutional buy-in

The telephone campaign’s success was only possible with the backing of every member of the college. From the conference office’s willingness to reschedule external bookings around the campaign dates, to the students themselves - who volunteered their time after their employment contracts were over at a donor event to meet some of the alumni they had spoken to – there was a real sense of belief in the cause and the value of fundraising from everyone in the College.

Major donor fundraisers have to take responsibility for keeping the rest of their charity informed on and engaged in the work that we do. An internal document outlining what the charity’s major donor programme hopes to achieve – and how colleagues across the organisation can help – can be very effective; as can simply working collaboratively and approachably with other teams.

Whatever the size or vision of your charity, I’ve found that it can’t hurt to think like a college every now and then!


Caroline GellatlyCaroline Gellatly, Major Gifts Manager, Prostate Cancer UK

Caroline is Major Gifts Manager at Prostate Cancer UK, overseeing the Pioneers programme. Her background is in academic fundraising, running telephone campaigns and college Annual Funds, and – unrelatedly – Italian wedding planning and au pairing in the Canaries!



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