The End of Phonathon Has Finally Arrived
Thinking about the role phonathon has played in higher ed fundraising over the years reminded me of television personality and all-around food guru Alton Brown. Throughout his 15 seasons as the host of Good Eats, Brown would frequently lament on the absurdity of the “unitasker.” For those of you unaware, a unitasker is a tool, particularly a kitchen utensil, which is useful only for performing a particular, specialized task.
While Alton was typically railing against strawberry slicers and tube-shaped egg cookers, many fundraising organizations also have their own unitasker, the longstanding phonathon. This is often one room, generally in a basement or converted storage closet, where students are recruited to make only solicitation calls, one after another after another.
Much like the electric knife sharpener, the phonathon at many organizations is a one-use relic of the past that has no place in an on-demand, hyper-personalized, engagement-focused advancement shop. This is why the best performing institutions have begun moving from the traditional phonathon to a truly integrated, multi-touch Digital Engagement Center.
The Digital Engagement Center: Phonathon meets omnichannel engagement
In short, a Digital Engagement Center, or DEC, is an omnichannel engagement program which uses front-end analytics to help drive communications and solicitations, contacting supporters through texting, personalized video, email, and of course calling. The DEC is a multitasker which evolves a supporter’s cell phone beyond calling and into a true omnichannel delivery device. The idea is to truly engage a prospect through the channels they prefer and in a way that creates the best ROI for an institution.
A DEC is not about stopping calling, it’s about optimizing phone outreach. For example, during the height of the pandemic’s first wave in early 2020, most institutions shuttered their phonathon or telefund, uncertain of when they would be able to make calls again. During this time, RNL worked to pivot our newly released RNL Engage platform to securely bring engagement calling back in a remote setting. The RNL Engage platform also has integrated texting, email, and video capabilities, and these became a game changer for institutions willing to remotely restart their programs.
Want immediate gifts? How about a 64% response rate from post-call texts?
Texting became not only an easy way to do mass outreach but also the solution to the prevalent question of what to do about credit cards gifts. In short, triggered text messages following-up on calling pledges helped secure credit cards at a rate that even eclipsed the old during-the-call credit card ask. One institution in particular reported fulfilling pledges at a rate of 64% using text messaging and without taking cards over the phone. Within 24 hours of the gift, they were surpassing their previous credit card on phone rates and getting more money in the door when it was needed the most.
Do more and reach more supporters with integrated video messaging
The effectiveness of the DEC did not end there. Additional channels such as personalized video have made a dramatic impact on outreach and stewardship as part of an integrated, omnichannel DEC. Triggered personalized videos can not only help drive fulfillment but also create a unique stewardship experience. Here’s an example of how personalized video works:
Personalized videos let you send immediate follow up communications to supporters, right from the ambassador who just completed a conversation.
Personalized video is not new: my team and I stared doing these at Arizona State University with an iPad back in the early 2010s. But the integrated technology and triggered structure of a Digital Engagement Center is what makes the difference. While you can certainly do one-to-one videos in the traditional style, DEC-integrated video allows you to pre-record multiple videos from your student engagement ambassadors that can be ready to go at any time based on the results of your outreach. Imagine one of your students has a great conversation with an alumnus and secures a credit card gift. That same engagement ambassador can then send a thank you message from their pre-recorded library which arrives via email within seconds of the call ending, and all done within the RNL Engage platform and without slowing down the next outreach.
As a triggered outreach, the donor gets their video quicker and thus is more likely to open and view it, with personalized video having an average open rate of 43%!
These are just a few examples of how a truly integrated, omnichannel Digital Engagement Center has finally surpassed the old school phonathon as the mobile-centric engagement and solicitation solution for fundraising. As you can imagine, the ability to move seamlessly between texting, calling, video, and email elevates the power of any program to connect with prospects and encourage continued donor support through the individual’s preferred channels.
A Digital Engagement Center can maximize your ROI, and surprise and delight donors. Contact us today to find out how you can be up and running with the best data driven technology in just a few weeks.
Discover the next generation of donor engagement solutions
Learn more about the remote-ready RNL Digital Engagement Center, which keeps your donors engaged across integrated calling, texting, and personal video. And it can keep your student ambassadors working and driving to your fundraising goals.