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Guide to a Successful Phonathon Program

August 4, 2022

Guide to a Successful Phonathon Program

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 way to cultivate engagement and garner support on an individual level, and there is no substitute for such personal contact.

Because high-performance phonathon programs require the right planning, people, training, incentives, communication methods, and reporting, the following outline is a guide to help you prepare and strategize for your next calling campaign. 

I. Building the Call Team - As Benjamin Franklin professed, begin with the end in mind.

Hiring Strategy - Identify the sites and mediums through which you will be able to attract candidates with good communication skills.

Develop interview questions and a mock call screening process.

          1. Outgoing Personality
          2. Attentive to Questions
          3. Articulate
          4. Motivated by Trackable Success
          5. Positive Attitude

II. Call Team Training  

  1. 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.
  2. Trainings should include.

          1.Communication skills for telephone 
          2. Listening exercise
          3. Scripting review and dissection
          4. Mock calls - practice with multiple call scenarios
          5. Software training
          6. Objections and rebuttals 
          7. Negotiation techniques
          8. Considering pledges and how to get a commitment
          9. Customer Service
        10. Process for handling complaints and difficult calls

III. Call Team Incentives

  1. 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.
  2. Standard incentives help motivate those who want to make more money, so it’s important to create an incentive plan around performance metrics.
  3. 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.
  4. Special contests and focused efforts can help make the most challenging calls a little easier to manage.  For example, incentives for non/future donor segments can help callers feel more motivated and eager to make as much contact and have as many conversations as possible.

IV. Constituent Communication Methods & Capabilities

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

V. Pledge Fulfillment  

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. The ability to offer so many secure options allows donors to make their gifts without the need for traditional letters, which is also beneficial when considering the USPS delays that have been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

VI. Performance Monitoring & Improvement

  1. “It's a numbers game” used to be the mantra of all call centers and phone operations: more calls = more conversations = more contacts = more dollars! This is still true to an extent, but making the most of each contact is more important than ever, as we will never get the contacts per hour through the telephony medium as was once possible.
  2. Numbers matter and need to be clearly communicated both for good performance and for performance that needs improvement.
  3. The technical delivery of the script and conversations that your callers have are the most important aspects of a call, and callers should be monitored, evaluated, and coached on their presentations and conversations with constituents.
    1. Rating the different areas of the call can provide a full review of each caller's strengths and areas that require improvement.
    2. Positive reinforcement is important to provide encouragement for the callers, while also making it easier to talk about any challenges with caller performance.
    3. Each caller should be monitored and coached weekly and scores and feedback should be documented.
    4. The next coaching session should include follow-up on the feedback previously given; if feedback has not been implemented and performance of a caller is still lacking, the next step may be to take a more assertive approach as to why the suggested adjustments are so essential for improvement.
  4. 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.

VII. Case for Support

  1. Asking for gifts that support specific needs has proven to be more effective than asking for “unrestricted” support or gifts to the “area of greatest need.”
  2. 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.
  3. Challenges and matching gift opportunities are also impactful because they create a sense of urgency and the value of each gift is multiplied.

Overall, Shift Fundraising has found that a properly planned, managed, and facilitated phonathon program generates a positive return on investment in the effort to achieve dollar and donor goals. Please accept Shift’s shared knowledge and experience as a resource that can help you overcome the challenges that may inhibit a successful calling campaign. If you would like to explore how the Shift team can assist with building or perfecting your phonathon, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

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