It doesn't take much money to make an event look special. You might be a top flight organization whose donors have high expectations, if so you'll likely have a budget to match. However, if you are with an organization that has a tight budget, you'll need to get creative to make your events sparkle.
I like to create "vision boards" with pictures from the internet put together as a collage so I can pitch my ideas about how I want the event to look and feel. Here's one I did recently as an example.
This shows many of the actual materials I planned to purchase and the colors I wanted to work with as well as the way I would deploy the decorations at the event. My budget was only $500 and I had to make these decorations work for 4 different events and they would end up being shipped across the country 4 times.
One of my favorite websites for party decor is Shindigz. Amazon also has some great deals and their Prime shipping is great when you need something for an event last minute.
I like to start with gossamer from Shindigz, which can be used as table runners or to tie up tablecloths around highboy tables. Gossamer comes in a 40 foot roll and can often be used for more than one event. Usually I pair it with some other material with some texture for variety. Burlap would work or tulle or in the case above, I used a shiny, fuzzy black material. Everything I bought was interchangeable variations of the school's colors, so I could switch up the way I used the materials at different events.
Flowers cost lots of money and cannot be reused, so paper lanterns with LED lights are a good option with candles on the table too. Confetti also adds budget sparkle to a table but check with your venue before using as it can be difficult to clean up.
I'll be returning to donor events as a regular topic on Real Deal Fundraising. Future posts I have planned include creating playlists for donor events, what should be on your donor event planning checklist, working with event vendors and several others. Subscribe today if you don't want to miss a post.
Here are some pictures of how the materials above actually looked at one event:
Before the fall semester ramps up, now is the time to check in and assess the effectiveness of your phonathon scripts. What follows is an excerpt from my book, Successful Fundraising Calls: A Phonathon Scripting Workshop from Academic Impressions. If your scripts need some punching up, this guide walks you through the process of giving your scripts a makeover step by step.
1. Does your script/policies require callers to do at least three distinct asks if the prospect is objecting?
a) No way, we trust our callers to make the right decision and not pressure prospects.
b) We require it but we don’t monitor it through write-ups or other disciplinary action.
c) Yes, absolutely. Callers must overcome objections and ask for the next level.
2. Do you allow open-ended or soft asks without an amount?
a) Yes. As long as they are asking, the amount is not important.
b) If the prospect sounds mad or needs to speak to his or her spouse, sometimes we do.
c) No. An ask is constituted by a direct question and an exact dollar amount.
3. Which of these sounds most like the rapport section of your call?
a) I am not sure what our rapport currently sounds like.
b) “Last year, ABU was rated #1 in biological sciences research by the American Society for awesome biological stuff…..”
c) “Did you know that ABU continues to get more accolades? For instance we were recently named #1 for biological sciences research.”
d) “I see you graduated in biology. Do you still work in that field? Wow. That’s interesting! Well, you’ll be pleased to know that we recently named #1 in biological sciences research. Isn’t that great?”
4. What percentage of your callers would know what an “assumptive” credit card ask sounds like
a) Huh? What is an assumptive ask? 0%
b) Some of the best ones. Maybe 40%
c) Any caller that has been around awhile. Over 80%
d) All our callers are required to follow an assumptive ask structure. 100%
5. How would you rate the transition between the rapport and first ask in your script?
a) We let the callers figure that out. It’s important that the rapport be natural.
b) It’s a little clunky. Sometimes when I am coaching that part feels awkward.
c) Pretty solid. We try to tie the fantastic things going on at our school to the need for private support.
For every A, give yourself 1 point. For each B you marked, give yourself 2 points, for every C give yourself 3 points and if you selected D give yourself 4 points.
Your scripts need some work. The scripts don’t provide callers with enough structure for them to feel confident and comfortable asking for money. If you are not requiring three asks or enforcing the delivery of those asks, you are leaving money on the table for your institution. Your alums might not be enjoying these calls as much as they could. Your callers are in danger of becoming de-motivated because they aren’t seeing success.
You are on the right track. Your scripts may be having trouble striking that balance between over-scripting and not providing adequate guidance for transitions or special circumstances. Some key tweaks to your system and scripts could result in huge improvements in revenue and fundraising success for your institution. Your callers might need a little boot-camp to get them on board but they’ll thank you as they begin raising lots of money and having a great time at work.
Way to go! Your scripts are making it happen! You might need to freshen up key sections, like rapport, your credit card ask, or your transitions. But, you have a great foundation from which to build. Perhaps most of what you need is to put a great coaching and pledge verification system in place to make sure that your awesome script is being put to use in calls. Rock on!
If you found this quiz helpful, visit this page to learn more about my book. And subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising and you'll get a free copy of my e-book on Call Center Games.
This is the final installment of my series on improving phonathon contact rates.
With average student loan debt loads reaching astronomical levels, many institutions have questioned whether they should give their new graduates a break and exclude them from traditional solicitation methods like mail and phone. (Click here, if you’re interested in learning more about student loan issues.)
This is a dangerous consideration for the immediate profitability and long-term viability of phonathon programs. The reason why lies in the history of cell phones. Here’s a quick history lesson and some other reasons why I don’t think you should stop soliciting your young alumni through mail or phone (regardless of student loan status).
As I’ve discussed in this series, contact rates are a key statistic that governs the productivity of phonathon programs. Two macro-forces are at work which make young alumni some of the best pools for contact rate these days.
Wireless number portability
In 2003, it became mandated that users could keep their cell phone number when they transferred wireless vendors. Before that, cell phones numbers were much less stable. Today’s student will likely keep their cell phone number well into adulthood if not forever.
The Virginia Tech Effect
Since the shootings at Virginia Tech (2007), universities have been implementing systems to collect student cell phone data so that mass text alerts could be sent out on safety issues. The long-term implication of this process is that the numbers (at many institutions) migrate over to the alumni database upon graduation, which is great news for phonathon programs.
ACTION ITEM: Check with Advancement Services to make sure that when they undertake their “grad loads” the cell phones on record are coming over as well and are being coded properly.
Size of young alumni pools
Aside from your institution being able to contact these alumni more easily, these are also probably some of your largest groups. Most institutions have grown leaps and bounds over the last 30-40 years. It’s likely that your organization graduates many more alumni each year now than the institution did 20-50 years ago. If you hopes to keep pace with peer institutions in terms of alumni participation, calling these large, well-connected groups is essential.
ACTION ITEM: Do a quick experiment, find out how many alumni have graduated in the last 10 years and then see what just those alumni represented to your phonathon in terms of contacts, dollars and donors. The significance of the number will likely surprise you. Although the average gift is often lower than other groups, participation is usually higher and volume is on your side. Totals add up fast when you have such large groups.
Case Building and Setting Expectations
Even if a prospect tells you no this year, an important process of philanthropic education occurs. The student caller has still presented the needs of the university and planted a seed which may grow into future giving. The benefit of this cannot be overstated. Solicitation is important even when it results in a refusal.
If, for instance, those with student loan debt cannot give this year, having a phone call begins a process of case-building which may resonate in the future when they are able to give.
ACTION ITEM: I recommend capturing refusal reasons so they can be tracked over time. If possible, I recommend adding a custom refusal reason for student loan debt and utilize this over the next 3 years to track trends with respect to this refusal reason as an analytical tool. However, restricting solicitation is not the best method for dealing with this refusal. Building a better case over time would be a better way to handle it.
Long-term lead generation
A report on Cultivating Lifelong Donors (2010) from Blackbaud states:
“Research shows that donors make $1,000 gifts to organizations most often when they have already been giving to the organization for about seven years. Long-term research with successful nonprofits also shows that those very same donors are approximately 900% more likely to make a major gift in their lifetime than individuals without that progressive history.”
For those of us in higher education, this means that we must acquire our new alumni very soon after graduation. Otherwise, they will develop a habit of giving to another non-profit organization and any major gifts they might make later in life are less likely to be given to our institutions.
I hope you found this blog post insightful and helpful. If you did, please subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising.
This video tutorial shows you how to set up basic formulas in MS Excel. By using this method, you would be able find out your direct mail response rates and average gift. Also, I touch on how to "reverse engineer" your statistics if you only know the response rates and average gift, perhaps from a past mailer.
You can check out my other video tutorial on how to use Excel for fundraisers here.
If you enjoyed this video please subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising.
What do you want to accomplish this week?
No, that question is flawed. That's a pie-in-the-sky question that lures you into making a to-do list that spills over the edge of your desk and onto the floor. The list will be unrealistic and you will feel like a failure come Friday. Buzzkill.
What are the 3 things you MUST get done this week?
Write them down and write down ONLY three. If you get all three done today or tomorrow, you can always do it again and make another list. But start with just three things.
For most, summertime is a time to plan and prepare. This can cause us to feel like we aren't doing much and so we load on too many tasks to feel more productive. Pull back from this instinct. You'll ultimately get more done and be more successful.
Start with just three things. It will feel attainable and once you feel you can attain it, you can and will. One task is too few to feel productive, two tasks just feels weird, and any more than three and your list is too long. Just three things. As the song goes, "Three is a magic number."
Just. Three. Things. What will you accomplish this week?
Scrubs is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. If you aren't familiar with the show, it's a comedy (sometimes dramedy) about a medical resident, his friends and their lives in a hospital. The theme song says, "I can't do this all on my own. I'm no superman."
This lesson is something that I had to learn the hard way. I was always the student who hated group work, because I shouldered most of the responsibility. So, over the course of my career, I came to view myself as a bit of loner. "I like to work independently," I would tell myself.
The problem, of course, is that you can't. As a fundraiser, you are immediately in a position of dependence on the donor. The donor is not obligated to support you. Our profession is by definition, dependent.
Secondly, you can't stuff all the envelopes yourself. You'll need to work with staff, interns, or vendors to meet all of your job tasks. And working in an office in any capacity is a dependent situation.
When I came back to my alma mater to work, I was hired along with 5 other individuals, 4 of whom were development staff. We went through training together and helped each other through our time at the organization. We called our little group "Our Pledge Class". It was with the pledge class that I finally realized that you are stronger if you form alliances with others. Even if I could do it on my own, it was easier and a lot more fun with others.
Scrubs ended but I have read that Zach Braff and Donald Faison (the actors who play the two main characters from Scrubs) are still best friends. All of my "pledge class" has moved on from that organization but we keep in touch. I know if I called any one of them for advice or a favor today, they would help me out.
So, my takeaway for today (inspired by the show Scrubs) is to cultivate your work relationships as much as you cultivate your donor relationships.
And here's a compilation of all the Scrubs EEEEEEEEAGLEs to make your Friday awesome!
I made a critical error when I was preparing for my CFRE exam.
I decided not to study at all.
I took the test cold and although I'd been a well-trained advancement professional for over 10 years, I failed by just a few points. I'm a textbook over-achiever and it was big blow to my ego.
The truth is that it is a very rigorous exam. The questions are structured in a different way from most exam questions that you likely have experience with. For instance the test will not ask you: "Why should you start a donor relations program?" Instead it will ask you: "What is the FIRST step you should take in formulating a donor relations program?" Out of 4-5 multiple choice answers, 2-3 of them will be correct answers but only one is the FIRST step that you should take.
The exam is designed to assess your ability as a fundraising professional to discern areas of gray. As another example, a question might be: "What is the most important aspect of marketing planned giving opportunities to your prospects?" or "What is the first action you should take if you uncover (this or that) unethical action?" In most cases, multiple answers will be technically correct, but the exam is looking for the most important or the first priority.
So what did I do after I failed my test? Well, after I finished being angry with myself and feeling sorry for myself, I registered for the next testing window (3 months). I purchased the CFRE Review Course book from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). It costs $200-$250. It was well worth it though, because it helped me to review areas of development in which I was weaker and most importantly provided sample exam questions so I could get more accustomed to this unique examination style.
My recommendation for anyone preparing for the CFREexam would be:
If you are a practicing fundraiser who has broad experience in several areas of development, I don't think you always needs to go through a two-day review course or read 18 different fundraising books. You just need to be prepared for the structure of this particular exam and be well-versed in most areas of development.
I can honestly say the process of certifying as a fundraising executive made me a better advancement professional and caused me to hone my skills in areas where I wasn't strong. In particular, the testing experience gave me the occasion to learn more about fundraising ethics. Becoming a CFRE is tough but it is worth it to acquire the designation.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the CFRE process or exam. I'd be interested to hear whether you want to become a CFRE and why. What's stopping you or slowing you down?
And subscribe if you find this content helpful?
I'm pleased to announce that I will be hosting a free webinar on Tuesday, August 2, 2016.
The topic is "Branding Your Phonathon" and I think it will help annual giving and phonathon staffers change the way they market job opportunities in their call centers.
Ask yourself: When a student on your campus tells other students that they work at the call center, what images are conjured in the minds of those other students? Does an image of a telemarketer pop up? Do they liken it to mind-numb drudgery like a drive-thru worker? Are they confused, not understanding exactly what they do at the call center? None of these images bode well for your future recruitment prospects.
I'll show you how to use language, images and word of mouth to brand your call center as the best job on campus. You can do it and it will change the kind of students you recruit, how long they stay and most importantly, how much money they raise.
Visit: www.realdealfundraising.com/webinar to sign up today.
This is the fourth in a five-part series about ways to improve phonathon contact rates. Contact rate is one of the most important metrics in phonathon. To read the other posts in this series, click here.
Where-Are-You-Now (WAYN) Next-day emails
Beyond properly employing all of the data research tools available, you can also improve your data integrity by systematically asking your alumni to update their information. One of the best practices for this is implementing a “Where Are You Now?” next day email to all prospects marked as wrong number, reassigned number, disconnected, or whereabouts unknown (for whom you have an email address on file). This email would basically explain that the institution was unable to reach them and direct them to a website where they could update their demographic information.
I marketed the update website as a “Reconnect” website and promoted it throughout the year not just in these emails but also on direct mail pieces and at the bottom of other emails. These next-day auto-responder emails to newly coded invalid numbers should be an on-going part of your program which supplements the data collection your phonathon callers do on the phone and your data research program.
Where-Are-You-Now (WAYN) Email blasts to lost alums
I recommend sending a bulk “Where Are You Now?” email blast to all prospects not loaded due to status as a “historic delete”. (A historic delete is a constituent that you did not load for phonathon calling because you know all their numbers were coded as invalid in previous years. See post about that here.)
The process for a WAYN blast is very similar to the WAYN next day emails. This should be done sometime in the mid-fall semester so that results can be incorporated into the database in the spring. Load a segment in the spring semester called “Fall Updates” which consists historic deletes for whom a new phone number was found during the fall semester. This makes sure that those who update don’t go an entire year without a solicitation and gives you a few more records to call in the spring.
If you found this article helpful, sign up for my mailing list to keep in touch. You will immediately receive a free e-book, "15 Best Call Center Games" and you'll be entered to win a copy of my upcoming e-book "How to Staff Your Phonathon Super-Fast: The 7 Secrets to Fill the Seats". Click the button below to sign up.
When I was working at Southern Miss, we received a file to do a mailer to parents of current students. Of course, Admissions didn't have lovely and clean addressee and salutation fields and in fact, we didn't even have the parent's first name in most cases.
I learned to use the "concatenate" formula to use that raw data to create addressees and salutations that were appropriate for direct mail. When we didn't have the parent's first name we used the student's name. It looked like "Dear Parents of John Doe,". Sometimes you make lemonade out of lemons.
It's not uncommon in fundraising to get a list of prospects that has "raw data" with first name and last name as separate fields, no titles and no addressees or salutations. Before you can create a mail merge or import those into your database, you'll need to create the fields that you need. And you'll want to do it cleanly and efficiently.
In this video, I'll show you 3 tricks in MS Excel that will help you save time and frustration in creating addressees and salutations for a list of prospects.
1) Use filters to create working groups
2) Use the "concatenate" formula to string text together
3) Use "paste values" to turn your data set into editable text
If you liked this video, check out my video on using Excel's "filter by color" function to plan your donor trips. And subscribe to Real Deal Fundraising to get content like this in your inbox.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.