Reviving a Phonathon Program With On-Campus Management

Pacific Lutheran University case study

Pacific Lutheran University Phonathon case study

"This program was something we were considering cutting. To have it be one of our stronger channels is really great."

—Alicia Hinckley, Director of Annual Giving

Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) historically had a strong, internally managed calling program using the Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) phonathon software, CAMPUSCALL™. However, over the last three years, donors and dollars raised through the phonathon were steadily declining, and PLU was no longer seeing a return on investment.

"The reason we started considering RNL is because we hit the point where we were wondering if we should continue with the program," explained Alicia Hinckley, director of annual giving and a former student fundraiser at PLU. In fact, the PLU team was very engaged in all aspects of the calling program since the inception of CAMPUSCALL in 2007.

Even with declining results, the calling campaign was still generating revenue. The PLU team proposed keeping the call center but rather than investing more into their personnel resources, they decided to outsource the program to experts. After researching similar institutions and working with their RNL contact on projected outcomes, PLU expanded its partnership with RNL as part of an on-campus managed phonathon program.

Adding on-campus phonathon management as an extension of the team

Admittedly, PLU was nervous about this change and turning over the call center they had personally invested in for more than a decade. "We were giving over a program we were so hands-on with and very invested in; we were hesitant to hand it over," Hinckley recalled. However, the RNL team came on board and helped the PLU team feel at ease. Once on campus, RNL developed the strategy, provided detailed projections, and outlined scenarios PLU could expect. The RNL team also recruited student fundraisers, led an in-depth caller training program, and provided the tools and technology needed to implement a successful calling campaign.

Before spring calling began, basic research was conducted, resulting in 8,423 numbers added or changed. RNL conducted a Cell Append, adding more than 4,000 updated contact records. Also, at the suggestion of RNL, PLU reduced the phonathon campaign by 50 percent, shifting from a 24-week calling calendar to a 12-week calling calendar each year.

"Once it got going, we were shocked and pleased with the results," Hinckley said and added that the call center manager was an extension of their team who reported on progress weekly and was just as enthusiastic about hitting goals as they were.

The results: Tremendous increases in dollars and donors

  • 75.5% increase in total dollars raised
  • 58.7% increase in gift commitments
  • 12,807new records added
  • $28,299 total dollars raised from basic research
  • 7,464 total conversations logged
The calling campaign occurred over six weeks during the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters. Adding the Cell Append research allowed student callers to successfully connect with more donors, and an updated conversation guide from RNL incorporated a higher ask ladder and special emphasis on recurring giving. As a result, PLU realized a 75 percent increase in total dollars raised. Pledge counts increased 58.7 percent year over year, with a 10 percent increase in average gift amount. The investment in data enrichment paid off. Acquisition and reactivation rates were higher for those with an added or changed phone number. Of the gift commitments from a researched prospect record, 24 percent came from never-givers and 74 percent came from a nevergiver or lapsed donor.

Once the calling campaign was completed, RNL provided a full analysis with meaningful recommendations that PLU can apply in the next fiscal year.

"The feedback that we got was very valuable, and RNL took our considerations as the first priority," Hinckley said. "The biggest thing for us was seeing the reports and numbers, then having the staff at RNL tell us the story behind what was happening. For a long time, we were looking at what we could, trying to make decisions based on the way we were analyzing the data. Having RNL come in and take care of that for us and tell us the end point was so valuable.

"This program was something we were considering cutting. To then have it be one of our stronger channels is really great."

Pacific Lutheran University is looking forward to continued success with the On-Campus Managed Phonathon program in 2018.

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