Late in the summer DCM call center staff at Symphony Center are hard at work raising money for the CSO. They are given instructions by DCM managers working in conjunction with the CSO’s Development Office. This, they are told is the time of year when we approach our corporate sponsors for money and we must show them we have a thriving base of individual and non-corporate contributors. At the same time, callers are instructed to ignore requests by contributors to be placed on the Do Not Call List.
The Do Not Call List was established to provide the public with an opt-out from the chronic solicitations of call centers. The FCC is empowered to enforce the rules and the rules are straightforward. If you request not to be called again then the nonprofit and its subsidiary must stop calling. While there are nuances and exceptions the law is clear – ask to be placed on the Do Not Call List and the caller is legally prevented from calling you.
Unless, apparently, you are on a list owned by the CSO’s Development Office and used by DCM Telefunding. Because their view is that, as one manager phrased it, unless they scream at the caller, just mark them as unavailable and we’ll call them again. And again. And again…and again…
Is this just corporate indifference? Is the CSO just a bully? Is DCM just a money-hungry bottom-feeding gang of malignant phone trolls?
The answers are slightly more complicated than yes or no though there is bullying involved and a lot of money.
The Development Office handles, as its title suggests, the development of the CSO’s financial growth. Plans to raise money, solicit money, and generally how to conduct telefunding campaigns all flow out of the office. In tight coordination with DCM the office manages the phone campaign and provides the call center with the call-list and details regarding large contributions in the form of matching grants – as in: Mr. Rich will contribute $50,000 and the callers will bombard Chicagoland with the opportunity to give money to the CSO and tell these prospective contributors that Mr.Rich will match their amount dollar for dollar until the $50k amount is reached.
Sounds all well and good until you drill down a little deeper.
What about the thousands of people who have asked repeatedly to be placed on the Do Not Call List?
What about the the CSO’s database that includes patrons who have died, or haven’t contributed in ten, twenty or even thirty years?
Why does the CSO and DCM maintain a database with bogus accounts?
Is it because it allows them to present inflated numbers to corporate sponsors who in turn base their financial contributions on the perception that tens of thousands of Chicagoland natives are jonesing for another performance of Bartok and Beyonce can take a hike?
Your guess is as good as mine but given the abysmal fundraising facts of contemporary call centers in which the average return ranges from .15 cents to .50 for every dollar raised, (see the following interview with DCM boss Phil Miller: https://news.artnet.com/market/are-museums-wasting-donor-money-on-telemarketers-50865) you have to wonder who is handling the CSO’s accounting? Huey Dewy and Louis? The famous law firm of Do-we Cheatem and How?
Or savvy manipulators of the public who know that classical music is a dying art form, that it is almost impossible for traditionalist organizations like the CSO to stay competitive in a landscape dominated by digital downloads (pirated or not) and an economy being held together with cheap wire and prayer.
In other words gaming this out, imagine it works like this: DCM knows that with the advent of caller ID and the National Do Not Call Registry, call centers are a dinosaur. So reverse engineer the plan and as is true for DCM, get paid not by how much you raise but by the number of callers making calls. And use the call center as a front, again speaking hypothetically, to provide cover for the CSO to maintain an inflated and bogus list of supporters, which is provided to, the likes of CVS and Bank of America, to convince them that they should hand over $500,000 or a million dollars every year.
Now consider that DCM operates across the U.S. and in Canada. It’s clients include the San Francisco Ballet and Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Houston Ballet and dozens of other apex performing art organizations.
And each of these organizations is operating a budget of tens of millions of dollars and every year DCM and other fundraisers are right there running boiler rooms full of people struggling to get by on $10 bucks an hour and the occasional commission check.
What a fucking racket.