The Value of A Robust Phonathon

Cutler Andrews

May 14, 2015


In the age of big money, it’s easy to focus on immediate rewards. Almost all institutions have increased their leadership, major and planned giving staff. Call it the “great wealth transfer” or whatever you want, we’re likely to see some big gift totals in the coming years. Donors are being very generous.

Are you losing donors faster than you are gaining them?

However, in higher education, alumni participation isn’t what it used to be. Many institutions are also seeing their total alumni donors decline—at a time when we have a ton of alumni and we can find their emails, addresses and phone numbers. Higher education overall has seen a significant decline in alumni donors over the past ten years. As a recent industry white paper explained, focusing on your total donor count is your best bet—participation will still matter for rankings, but if your donors are down, you’re never going to reach your total fundraising goals.

Why is the pipeline important?

Recent research tells us that 65-75% of major and planned giving donors give annually before they make their big gifts. We’ll be dropping some research of our own about this in the next few weeks, and the basic pattern we’re seeing is that most “big donors” give many times before they make the big gift. You might be able to find a few that give a large first gift, but most of your big money is going to come from loyal donors.

You are building the pipeline for the future with your calls and appeals today. 25 years from now, your president or chancellor isn’t going to walk into the Advancement office and say: “Congratulations, we don’t need to raise any more money!”

We’ll always need philanthropic support because we’re always striving to do more and do it better. We want to provide access to quality education, to conduct valuable life-changing research, and to enrich the lives of those who we support. In higher education, this means students, and we’ll always want to do more for them.

The loyal annual donors we encourage today will be the major donors of tomorrow.

Why phonathon?phonathon_pulse

Our recent white paper lays it out: phonathon is the closest thing you have to a personal visit with a donor, but it’s much more scalable and cost-effective. Your phonathon, when it’s done well and in a “robust” model, creates an army of gift officers.

Phonathon is the only solicitation method beside gift officer visits that allow a personal connection and active donor feedback. Along with providing great short-term and long-term ROI (including contact rates 25% higher than direct mail), phonathon provides a valuable barometer on your donors and prospective donors.

Phonathon matters.

We can back it up. We looked at the results reported by institutions to the VSE survey, and found that institutions who partnered with us have 99% of their donors from 10 years ago. When we looked specifically at the 93 on-campus phonathons who had committed to these “robust” programs of calling alumni for at least three years (2012, 2013, and 2014), they had a 103% of their 2004 donors, while the rest of higher education declined more than 7%. bucketssmall

Phonathon isn’t the only reason that these institutions have avoided donor decline. But as we come out of the recession, their investment in this channel and other quality, personal outreach has allowed them to raise  more money and more quickly. We’ll be dropping some research in the next few weeks to show just how much more.

Head here to see this overview and download the full white paper on robust phonathons. And stay tuned for more research findings here at on how to grow your donor pipeline.

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