voicemail buttonThe great thing about writing a blog on a regular basis is that the author has the opportunity to really dive into a subject and examine it on a microscopic level.

Today is such a day, when we pull out our microscopes and peer deeply into our organization’s image. Let’s talk about voice mail and answering machines. We’ve all got ‘em, but are we getting the most out of them that we can?

This may seem like a very basic point, but I do believe it is worth covering, since I’ve heard many, many dreadful messages that have spoken very poorly of the people who recorded them.

10 Cardinal Rules of Recording Voicemail Messages

1. Keep it up to date.
It’s embarrassing when you have a message that talks about an event or a date that is two weeks old. If you ever change your outgoing message for a time-sensitive purpose or event, make sure to change it immediately afterwards.

2. Make sure you actually have an outgoing message.
Some non-profits, who don’t have a fancy voice mail system, still use an old-fashioned answering machine, and these can lose their memory if there is a power outage. Don’t have a client, customer, or a member have to tell you that you don’t have a message on the machine. This is the equivalent to being told your zipper is undone.

3. Don’t be dull.
“You’ve reached Middletown Community Center. Please leave a message.” Come on! That’s terrible, but believe me, such messages are out there. Use a welcoming tone of voice, provide key information about your hours of operation, or at least give your web address to point them toward more details. If a special event is coming up or is ongoing, make a point of mentioning that. Once your caller hangs up the phone, he or she should have a warm, fuzzy feeling about your organization.

4. Leave an emergency or after-hours number.
A lot of non-profit business occurs after regular office hours. It’s easy to say, wait until morning or wait until Monday, but really, you can’t afford to do that. If you have an auction or a golf outing coming up, leave a secondary contact number of a committee member. What if the caller was a business that wanted to donate an item for your auction, but they didn’t feel like leaving a message and they weren’t able to call back? That kind of thing happens and happens often.

5. Use the voice of authority.
The person who leaves the message should be the person who is in charge of the organization. I know that many people like to have a secretary with a pretty voice record the message, but personally, I like to know and hear that the head honcho is involved with what’s going on in the office. Unless the leader has the voice of Elmer Fudd, he or she should put a personal stamp on the outgoing phone message. And I think it’s poor when somebody else records another person’s voice mail message on a personal mailbox. Unless there is some sort of top-secret reason, that’s just the height of self-importance.

6. Use a script when recoding the message.
It sounds really cheesy if you are just “winging it” when you record your outgoing message. You shouldn’t have any “umms” or “ahhs” or awkward pauses when you can’t remember what you wanted to say next. Take a few minutes and write down what you are going to say. Then practice it a couple of times to get a flow to it, then record it. It will sound much more professional if you come across as if you know what you’re doing.

7. Pretend you are talking to a real person.
When thinking about the right tone of voice to use in your message, give the impression that you are actually having a conversation with one of your donors. That’s a mixture of politeness, interest, confidence, and just a little bit of salesmanship. You want to make sure the caller gets the impression you really are talking to him or her.

8. Enunciate.
If you have the habit of speaking quickly and sometimes slurring your words, slow down in your message. Don’t be nervous when recording. You don’t have to rush- there is plenty of tape. The last thing you want is people wondering what it is you just said.

9. Don’t say too much.
On the other hand, you don’t want to prattle on forever, either. There is a limit to people’s patience, so be very judicious in picking what you are going to say. Think about how long you would want to listen to a recorded message yourself and don’t go any longer than that.

10. Repeat key information.
It always kills me, when a message does something good like leave a secondary number to call, but says it really fast and doesn’t repeat it. So, I have to call the machine back to catch it again. Do it right the first time. If you are leaving information that the caller will have to write down, repeat it twice and go a beat slower when speaking. I actually had a grandparent of a student at the school I worked at who complimented my phone message once because I did that, so I realized that many people appreciate that sort of attention.

Why is all this important for nonprofit fundraising?

Someone may read the above suggestions and really get the notion that I am crazy. Wound way too tight. Why on Earth could the answering machine be so important? Everybody has voice mail, everyone knows what to do, why waste valuable breath on leaving a fancy message?

The answer is simple. You, as a school, are serving customers. You, as a non-profit agency, want those customers to donate money, whether it’s for services rendered, tickets to an auction, or cookie dough dollars. And by and large, people won’t give money to organizations that are sloppy. That is why you have a dress code for your office staff. That is why you want a well-designed website. That is why you want to have an inviting entrance to your facility. You are trying to make an impression on your customers.

Don’t go to all the hard work of creating a positive image and then blow it by having a terrible answering machine message. I know it sounds unbelievable, but there are plenty examples of this out there in the non-profit world. Remember- be polite. Be fun. Be inviting. Give lots of important information. And be thankful they called you in the first place.

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Posted on 05 March 2009

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