Boosting Phone Contact Rates

Posted on 04/01/2022

Running a phonathon program isn’t easy. Recruiting and training a staff of quality callers (not to mention maintaining the systems in your call center) requires a lot of time, effort, and money. Fortunately, phonathons have a lot of benefits. They have higher conversion rates than direct mail and email appeals, they’re an effective way to acquire new donors and upgrade current donors, and they’re the most efficient way to engage a lot of prospects in a personal way. 

One of the things you can do to assess the productivity of your calling efforts is to measure the program’s contact rates. You can do this by simply dividing the number of people in your calling pool that you ended up talking to, regardless of the outcome, by the total number of records in the pool (or in a particular segment). Making contact with your prospects is a first (and very important step) in getting them to ultimately make a gift. 

Unfortunately for many school advancement programs, phonathon contact rates have fallen significantly over the past decade due in large part to the rise of smartphones and growing negative stigma around telemarketing. Today the industry average is around 50 percent. It may seem like making contact with a prospect is out of your control, but there are a number of things you can do to increase your chances of getting through. With that in mind, here are five ways to boost your phonathon contact rates: 

  1. Give them a heads-up. Let prospects know you’ll be calling with some advance notice. Mail them a pre-call postcard, run a targeted digital ad, or send them a personalized email with a request to schedule a call in advance at a time that’s convenient for the prospect.
  2. Target “phone-friendly” prospects. Don’t spend too much time calling people who have responded only to direct mail or email appeals in the past. Focus first on prospects who have previously responded to your phone calls. For non-donor segments, try to identify those who share characteristics with your past phonathon responders.
  3. Let tired lists rest. Keep your lists as fresh as possible. Avoid calling the same prospects over and over when they don’t answer. Give segments a break after you’ve attempted them three or four times within a period of a couple weeks. After that, you can try putting them back in the calling pool.
  4. Improve your data. As the landline phone makes its way onto the endangered species list, it’s increasingly important to maintain good mobile phone numbers on all of your prospects. Create incentives for prospects to provide you with their mobile phone numbers and consider investing in mobile phone append services.
  5. Leave messages. Don’t assume that just because people don’t answer your call, they don’t see you calling. They may be screening your calls because they don’t know who you are or why you’re calling. Leaving a voicemail can increase the likelihood that prospects will answer the next time you try. This is especially true for young alumni and parents.

Phonathon programs have proven benefits, but the only way to realize those benefits is for your callers to get through to prospects on the other end of the line. Increasing your contact rates is key if you expect to raise more money and secure more donors through your phonathon. Remember, to have something to show, you need to hear “hello.”


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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