Tips for Great Phonathon Interviews

Elaine Ezrapour

August 19, 2015

Fall is almost upon us…the season of peacoats, beautiful foliage, pumpkin spice lattes, and phonathon interviews! Here are some of my tips for conducting your one-on-one interviews with prospective student fundraisers:

Kicking off the Interview:

Automated Voice Messaging

  • I believe that all initial one-on-one interviews should be conducted on the phone so you can get a sense of how the interviewee sounds and performs when s/he actually makes fundraising calls.
  • Once you connect with your interviewee, find out what they already know about the role and use their response as a lead into reviewing the components of the job.
  • When discussing the role itself, don’t skirt over its challenges! Be upfront about the hang-ups, rude prospects, or uncomfortable situations that will arise. Be sure to touch upon the best aspects of the job, too! As I detailed in a recent blog post, the interview is a key moment to delve into your motivational strategies as means to attract future callers.

Asking the Questions:

  • When it comes down to it, the questions you ask or the content of the answers (for the most part) don’t matter too much. Can they talk? Can they connect ideas? Can they develop an argument? Good. That’s who you want.
  • Some of my go-to interview questions:
    • What’s your favorite TV show? Convince me why I should watch it.
    • What’s your least favorite aspect about this University…Okay, now tell me why it’s the best part of your collegiate experience.
    • If you could give a million dollars to the University, what area of the institution would you give it to and why?
  • These questions help your candidate show you how they channel the communication and charisma necessary to attract donor passion and convince donors to give over the phone.

Reading the Mock Script:

  • Do you let your candidates try out the job during the interview process? Consider having your candidates call you (or, even better, someone else who is willing to let you silently listen in the conversation). In that call, have the interviewee read through a short mock phonathon script while you (or a friend) act as the prospect. This component of the interview is important because it gives you sense of how the interviewee may perform when conducting real fundraising calls, and it also gives the him/her insight into the central component of the fundraising job.
  • While you can provide the text for the interviewee to read verbatim for the majority of the script, ensure that when you pose objections to giving, they have an opportunity to craft a response and, ideally, a case for you to reconsider. The best candidates for the job are the ones who have something more to say than, “Oh, $150 does not work for you? How about $75?” Do they acknowledge your objection? Do they provide a compelling reason to give? If so, you’ve found yourself a winner.
  • Lastly, the script should emphasize all aspects of the call that are integral to your program’s success. For example, a big focus here at University of Rochester’s phonathon, as with many programs, are credit card gifts. Therefore, in the mock script, credit cards are the only means listed for processing a gift; pledge cards are never mentioned. Future callers learn to then prioritize credit cards over pledge cards when they make real fundraising calls.

Wrapping up the Interview:

  • Once the script reading session is over, let your interviewee ask questions and review your timeline for potential hire.


  • Conclude with the most important component of the interview: giving the interviewee a chance to decide if they want to accept the challenge. Let your candidates know that after they learned more about the job, and in particular the tough parts (which you addressed earlier), if they are still interested in pursuing an opportunity with phonathon they can follow up with you within a few days. Allowing for a few days before a follow up will allow the interviewees to honestly consider if phonathon is an appropriate opportunity for them. If they don’t want to continue pursing the job, that’s fine. Fundraising is not for everyone, but you can, and will, eliminate turnover down the line by taking this key step.

I hope these tips help you identify effective student fundraisers for your phonathon program!

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