Using Your Phonathon to Secure Gift Officer Visits

Posted on 09/15/2018

Phonathons have long been a cornerstone of annual giving programs — and with good reason. Data consistently shows that telemarketing has a higher conversion rate than direct mail and email appeals and that calling is an effective means for acquiring new donors and upgrading current donors. Quite simply, phonathons are an efficient way to engage a large number of prospects with your institution in a personal way.

Phonathons are also expensive to operate. Recruiting and training student workers, managing the call center, and maintaining the necessary technology all require time and resources. In an era of declining contact rates, this has many institutions evaluating whether their phonathon is worth the investment.

The University of Florida is investing in new ways to get the most out of their student outreach. Over the past three years, the annual fund team has added scheduling visits for UF’s leadership annual giving officers (LAGOs) to their student caller portfolio. To launch the program, the phonathon management team identified their three best callers and provided them with specialized training on how to build relationships with prospects over the phone in order to secure visits for LAGOs. The appointment-setting calls are conducted during the day to avoid interference with the regular solicitation calls, so as not to impact the phonathon’s primary, revenue-generating function.

With a little over 900 hours allocated to appointment setting in its first year, the phonathon was able to schedule 172 visits and generate 223 potential future visits for the LAGO team. Each of UF’s leadership annual fund officers completes close to 200 visits per year, and phonathon callers are now scheduling roughly half of them. The appointment outreach also serves as a qualifying function for the UF team. Callers generated more than 1,000 declined visits; those alumni were then deferred out of active portfolios for one to two years.

While this assistance has been critical to LAGOs’ ability to meet aggressive targets, they do still have the option to conduct their own appointment setting too. Since leadership annual giving officers are a talent pipeline to major gift officer positions at UF, the institution recognizes the importance of giving team members an opportunity to hone this skill.  

What started out as a strategy to increase the phonathon’s return on investment has now become a critical component of UF’s overall advancement strategy, allowing the annual fund to leverage their resources and make a meaningful impact across the institution. By expanding the scope of your calling program and using it in new and innovative ways, you can ensure that your phonathon remains a productive part of your advancement efforts for many years to come.

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