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Guide to a Successful Phonathon Program

March 18, 2024

Guide to a Successful Phonathon Program

Sample Script Included

Establishing and maintaining relationships with constituents and encouraging new donors via phone has become increasingly difficult over the past decade. During these challenging years, Shift Fundraising has learned that people certainly respond better through communication channels they prefer and that they are definitely more inclined to designate support in correlation with their affinities. Shift has also found that, contrary to the notion that it is not worth the investment, phonathon is still a highly effective and productive multichannel fundraising tool to cultivate engagement and garner support on an individual level;  there is just no substitute for such personal contact.

Despite the rumor that Phonaton is dying, we continue to be reminded that it is in fact more alive now than ever before! Phonathon is becoming one of the most successful ways to build relationships, promote engagement, and gather support at the same time. There is no substitute for personal contact. In our decades of experience phonathon has proved to be and remains an excellent outreach tool for:

✓ higher ed and non-profit fundraising 

✓ admissions student recruitment 

✓ college and university student enrollment 

✓ contact information gathering

We wish everyone well on their phonathon journey, but we have defined a list of phonathon best practices that highlight how to run a successful on campus phonathon program. This includes the right planning, people, training, incentives, communication methods and reporting. The following guide will help you prepare and strategize for your next calling campaign.

1. Building your Call Team

2. Call Team Training

3. Call Team Incentives

4. Constituent Communication Methods 

5. Pledge Fulfillment

6. Performance Monitoring and Improvement 

7. Case for Support

Building your Call Team

Benjamin Franklin once said, “begin with the end in mind.” There is no better place to start when it comes to building your calling team. The end goal usually relates to support. How to get support? Be friendly, transparent, understanding and useful. Determine your end goal and how you think you can achieve it, then look for those characteristics in your potential callers.

Determine which type of callers you will use: volunteers, company employees, hired employees or outsourced callers. 

If hiring,  identify the sites and mediums through which you would like  to attract candidates and develop interview questions to showcase characteristics you are looking for such as good  communication skills and great customer service.

Here are some great caller characteristics to look for:

✓ Outgoing Personality

✓ Attentive to Questions

✓ Articulate

✓ Motivated by Trackable Success

✓ Positive Attitude

Once you have your candidates identified, the next and very important step begins, training your team.

If using a fundraising company for your phonathon software solutions, they will be responsible for call team assembly and completing any necessary staff hiring, training and scheduling.

Training On-Campus Callers (or On-Site Callers)

Once you have interviewed, tested, and hired the call team candidates, it’s time to train them. An effective interactive training is critical to the success of your phonathon, as it will build the confidence and motivate your callers to engage constituents with confidence and positivity.

If you are conducting the training yourself, here are some things to ensure you include in your training. 

✓ Customer Service

✓ Telephone Communication Skills

✓ Active Listening on the Phone

✓ Scripting Review and Discretion

✓ Mock Calls

✓ Software Training

✓ Objections and Rebuttals

✓ Negotiation Techniques

✓ Considering Pledges Vs Commitment

✓ Handling Complaints and Difficult Calls

If you're looking to run your own program but aren’t sure where to start, look for a company that will offer call team training. The best of both worlds, expert training and advice with the calling team you’ve worked hard to create.


Rewarding your team and acknowledging success is critical to hitting your phonathon goals; identify attributes and performance that contribute to a positive atmosphere, productive conversations, and more giving.

Standard incentives help motivate those who want to make more money, so it’s important to create an incentive plan around performance metrics.In addition to encouraging more donors and dollars, incentivize callers for good conversations and increased giving as well, and remember that public recognition is a highly motivational tool that doesn’t cost anything.

Another great incentive tool to incorporate into your campaign is a contest. There is nothing like the motivation that comes from a little healthy competition between callers. Offering a special prize to the top performer can encourage all callers to increase effort and make the most of each call. Target anything specific, such as the first person to get 10 donations over $50 or first person to enroll 5 students, etc. Make it specific to your cause and ensure the prize is worth the effort of your callers, encouraging ongoing effort for potential future competitions and prizes.

Constituent Communication Methods 

Determining how best and how frequently to communicate with constituents is critical to the success of the phonathon; communicate with them the way they prefer!

When do you call?  Traditionally, phonathon calls have been made on weekday evenings and during the day on weekends, but - with the prevalence of cell phones and given the fact that many people have their cell phones tied to their work - daytime calling efforts have become much more effective.

Mail, email, text, voicemail, and social media are all great ways to inform and keep your constituents informed of events and needs; your callers should be able to engage constituents through as many of these channels as possible, and customizing your outreach to constituents based on their preferred communication methods can/will have a great impact on your contact and conversion rates.

Including phonathon into your multichannel fundraising is part of a winning strategy. Not only is this a great way to connect with donors on a personal level it works well with other communication types. If you are using social media, email or mail it’s easy to reference in your call. This is a great way to identify contact preferences and transition the call into the reason for the outreach.

Pledge Fulfillment  

Should you still send acknowledgements and reminder letters in the mail?  More and more organizations are greatly reducing the amount of mail that they’re sending, as the increasing costs of doing so hits the bottom line for donations, which - of course - takes away from the good that these donations ultimately provide (not to mention the heightened awareness of and emphasis on the importance of conserving natural resources); encouraging text to give and using email links for constituents to fulfill pledge commitments cuts expenses and increases ROI.

Over the past 2-3 years, more phonathon donors have been confidently inclined to fulfill their gift commitments with a credit card (Shift Marketing’s phonathon programs have experienced a 10 percent increase in credit card conversion during this period); for those who remain hesitant about credit card fulfillment over the phone, they should be provided with giving links via email and text messaging (if consent is given).

It is a bonus to offer many secure donation processing options, not only do your donors have the option to proceed the way that is best for them, they know that the safety of your donors information is very important to your organization, another step towards building lifelong relationships with your contacts.

Performance Monitoring & Improvement

When phonathon was in  its prime, it was often the center of any fundraising strategy because it was so successful other channel’s weren’t necessary. Over the years new channels have emerged and held onto a piece of the fundraising puzzle, creating the multichannel communication spectrum there is today. 

In today’s world of fundraising and especially with phonathon there is more happening than it seems. Though garnering monetary support is usually the main goal, there are no lost calls in phonathon. Each conversation is a chance to represent your cause, create awareness, build strong relationships, respond to questions, and generate positive feelings associated with organizations. The positives that can come out of a simple call are endless. Making the most of each contact is more important than ever before, which means each call is important. 

The technical delivery of the script and conversations that your callers have are some of the most important aspects of a call. Callers should be monitored, evaluated, and coached on their presentations and conversations with constituents.

HIghlight weekly results, provide scores based on metrics and provide helpful feedback leading into the coming week. Use previous feedback as a building block for the next feedback session. 

Positive reinforcement is important to provide encouragement for the callers, while also making it easier to talk about any challenges with caller performance.

Another critical performance area is attendance and adherence to shift schedules. Without the right amount of callers scheduled, it will be impossible to attempt enough calls required to make enough contacts, which - in turn - are what lead to the conversions necessary to hit your donor and dollar goals. Promoting and rewarding exemplary attendance can/will help to establish a culture of success.

One thing many people find challenging about running a phonathon program is creating a script. We want to make things as easy as possible for you, so in addition to this duife, we’ve included a sample script here.

Sample Script

Hello, may I speak with ___________?   Hi, my name is ________and I am calling on behalf of the ABC University… how are you this evening?

We are calling for a couple reasons … first, we would like to thank you for your last year’s financial support.  You’ll be happy to know that still one hundred percent of your investment goes directly to the program important to you…and last year, University alumni and friends supported nearly 1,300 different funds touching many different parts of campus! (go to ALL)

It’s our hope that knowing your investment goes directly to student programs, that you will renew your financial support.

But first we would appreciate it if we could confirm information we have in our database.

Is your mailing address still … [verify and confirm spelling]           

Did I reach you on your home or cell phone?  (Confirm/Obtain phone numbers below)

[IF EMAIL IS BLANK]:  We don’t have an email address on file for you, may I add yours so we can keep you updated on news and events?


 We are always interested to see how your UNM experience impacted your professional career.  Are still working at ….

 [IF EMPLOYER INFO BLANK]  We’re always interested to see how your educational experience impacted your professional career, but I see that we don’t have any employment information on file for you.   May I ask where you’re currently employed and what your job title there is? …[ update employer information and job title, if applicable]

Thank you for updating your information with me!  We do appreciate it.


Based of your generous past gift, can we count on you for a gift of $<<ASK1>> to the <default designation>?


I understand.  Would you prefer to match your Last Gift amount of $<<LASTGIFT>>.


Again, please know that your participation is more important than the amount that you give.  Is there any amount you’d be comfortable giving this evening to support and help us increase our alumni and friends’ participation?



Pledge Confirmation

Great!  Thank you so much for your $______ pledge of support! 


The best, most efficient method would be to place your gift on a credit or debit card, as it saves on mailing costs.  Which would you prefer to use this evening? [Visa, Mastercard, AMEX or Discover]


Please understand also that using a credit or debit card saves money on administrative costs and helps conserve our environment.  Can we place you gift on a credit card? I promise it won’t take long. 

I understand.  Not everyone likes to use their card over the phone.  We do have another option that you may prefer.  I can send you a text right now with a link to the giving page. This way, you can go online yourself after our call and take care of it.  The benefit of this is we can save the paper and postage costs of sending out a pledge letter through the mail.  Would you rather do it that way after we hang up tonight?

IF YES:  Great --- (after you confirm the cell phone and click submit) --- Thank you so much for taking care of this tonight.  If for some reason you can’t, a letter will still go out in the mail --- but hopefully you’ll find a couple minutes to take care of it, okay? (Pause)

[If NO to text]

Ok that’s no problem. We’ll send you a pledge confirmation letter along with a return envelope right away.  We ask that you complete and return it with a check within the next 15 days, if possible.  


Many companies have a matching gift program whereby they will match an employee’s charitable donation, which can double or even triple the amount of the gift.  Does your employer (or your wife’s employer if married) have a matching gift program that you know about?

Yes – That’s great. Please complete the necessary gift form at your HR Office; often, there is an online application process. Also, if you need any assistance let us know and we can help you with the process. Again, it’s an easy way to increase your support to South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. 

If Unsure:  You can find out by contacting your HR department,

If No:  Move on

ALUM:  FIELD NAME:  [Match]                                 


SPOUSE:  FIELD NAME:  [Match1]                



Specified Pledge

I want to thank you very much for your time and your pledge tonight.  And thank you for making us a priority – your support really does make a difference.  If you have any questions, you can call the Annual Giving Office at XXX-XXX-XXXX or visit our website at  Have a great night!

Unspecified Pledge
I want to thank you very much for your time and thank you for considering to make a gift tonight.  Ok that’s no problem. We’ll send you a pledge confirmation letter along with a return envelope right away.  We ask that you complete and return it with a check within the next 15 days, if possible. 

XXX-XXX-XXXX or visit our website at Have a great night!Credit Card
I want to thank you very much for your time and your pledge tonight. And thank you for making us a priority – your support really does make a difference. If you have any questions, you can call the Annual Giving Office at XXX-XXX-XXXX or visit our website at Have a great night! Have a great night!

Okay, thank you for your time this evening and we hope you’ll keep us in mind in the future.  If you have any questions, you can call the Annual Giving Office at XXX-XXX-XXXX or visit our website at Have a great night!   Have a great evening!

Case for Support

‍Did you know that raising money for a specific fund has been historically more effective in fundraising than keeping it generic? The biggest issue in today’s fundraising with generic funds like “greatest need” and “unrestricted” is that there is no transparency for the donor. People, now more than ever, want to know exactly how their hard earned money will be used if they donate to you.

Shift’s clients generally deploy strategies that match the philanthropic interests of their constituents with funds that benefit specific departments, student scholarships, etc.; constituents are more inspired to designate their giving toward something about which they feel strongly, with which they are most familiar, and/or from which they benefitted.

For higher education, the easiest way to pull this off is by using departments of major or organizations they were involved in. For non profit it can be tricky, but when speaking with previous donors, offer the funds to go towards the same designation as previous years. 

Challenges and matching gift opportunities are also impactful because they create a sense of urgency and the value of each gift is multiplied.

It sounds simple on paper, a successful phonathon program can be pulled off with good planning, management and facilitation. But the most successful programs take a well built call team, thorough and engaging caller training, motivating caller incentives, thoughtfully identified communication methods, pledge fulfillment methods, daily quality assurance oversight, and specifically tailored giving options and designations on top of good planning, managements and facilitation. It might sound like a lot but there are tools, resources and professionals to help you throughout your phonathon journey, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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