Advice to my younger-fundraising-self about phone-a-thons

blog carnivalThis month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and the theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” In addition to asking other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration, I am also focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic. Today’s post is the final one prior to the April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival going live on Thursday, April 28, 2016. So, mark your calendars because this month promises to be full of fun submissions.
Today’s Matrix-inspired post involves a younger me who learned valuable lessons about managing phone-a-thons. Enjoy!

Back in the early days of my career when I worked for the Boy Scouts, I remember managing my first phone-a-thon fundraising activity. It was a clean-up strategy at the end of my first Friends of Scouting (FOS) annual campaign. Here is how it worked:

  • phoneathonRecruit a handful of volunteers who don’t mind calling people and asking for money
  • Find a volunteer whose company had a bank of phones available after work (this was prior to cell phones)
  • Secure a list of previous year’s donors who hadn’t renewed their FOS pledge (names and phone numbers)
  • Develop and provide a phone script to volunteers
  • Conduct a short training before unleashing volunteers on the phone and answer all of their questions
  • Ask volunteers to complete the pledge form for those donors who made a commitment over the phone (and in lieu of a signature simply write “phone solicitation“)
  • Send pledge reminders to donors whenever the Finance Department’s next batch of invoices is scheduled to be sent

As I recall my first annual campaign, I am painfully reminded of those horrible “year-end pledge uncollectible phone calls” that both I and all of my fellow district executives were tasked with making. I remember the exact moment when I realized how many of those calls were being made to donors who had contributed via the phone-a-thon.
Unfortunately, I’m now even remembering a specific discussion with an irate donor who insisted he never made a pledge and challenged me to find any documentation with his signature on it.
matrixI sometimes wish those cool phones used by the characters from the Matrix movies could be used today for time travel. Because if that was an option, I would totally go back in time to my first phone-a-thon in the late 1990s. I would tell my younger-fundraising-self the following:

  • Phone solicitation is not effective . . . you’ll raise more money by organizing campaign mop-up activities focused on in-person visits (“Just Say NO” as Nancy Reagan was famous for saying)
  • People have been conditioned for decades by telephone solicitors to be evasive
  • People receive so many phone solicitations (e.g. newspaper subscriptions, credit cards, etc) that they all blur together and can be hard for donors to recall days and months after they occur
  • Don’t just let volunteers complete the pledge form for the donor without a signature . . . create a special phone-a-thon pledge form that requires the solicitor to sign-off on the authenticity of the pledge (now you at least have the name of someone you can contact if things go wrong)
  • Set-up a procedure where donors are called within 24 hours to verify they made the pledge
  • Send out pledge reminders within 24 hours of the verification call

If you’ve gotten this far and find yourself thinking a phone-a-thon sounds like a great idea, then I refer you back to the first bullet point.

If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival, you are unfortunately too late for April’s carnival which goes live on Thursday, April 28, 2016. However, you should check out how to participate next mont’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival at Pamela Grow’s website.
If you are a DonorDreams subscriber or reader (or someone who simply stumbled upon this post), then please come back in a few days for the April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival. Prepare yourself for some of the non-profit blogosphere’s “best & brightest” who will be sharing invaluable lessons from their fundraising and non-profit pasts. And once you’ve had your fill of sweet and savory blog posts (note to reader that I am trying to channel fun carnival imagery here), I encourage you to share the carnival with your staff and board volunteers and via your social media networks.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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