Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan and advocate of automated calling software. And I’ve been spoiled in my career, working for large state universities with the resources to either outsource the calling program or to have an in-house program with appropriate calling software.
In the past, I would cringe when a colleague would tell me they were running a manual/paper phonathon.
But there’s a reason why they say necessity is the mother of invention. I now work for a small independent seminary that is on a shoestring budget.
This summer, I did some analysis and determined that what the program really needed was a phonathon. I decided this for a few reasons:
You really only need 3 things to have a phonathon:
I figured out my maximize number of callers and caller hours that I could afford to pay based on a competitive hourly rate for the location (Berkeley, CA). Then I set about recruitment. Here are some of the graphics I used to recruit students callers.
I used my 3 favorite interview questions for student callers. You can read about those here. I hired 4 students and 1 graduate who wanted to volunteer her time as a service to the school.
Now I needed equipment. At first, I was thinking through how much long distance would cost and whose offices we could use in the evenings. Then I went back to drawing board: Why was thinking landlines when I preach all the time that cell phones are the future of phonathon?
I decided to go mobile. I ordered simple, Samsung flip phones which had a headphone jack so we could utilize headsets. I bought these Voistek noise cancelling headphones that would work with the phones and free the caller to move anywhere in the room. I bought some of the headsets with only one ear pad and some with two. The callers overwhelming preferred the double headset. The headsets, while very affordable ($29) also had good sound quality. Here are the links for the phones and headsets I selected.
(Yes, these are affiliate links. I've actually used these products and I'm sure they'll help you start a pop-up phonathon. If you purchase, I get a small percentage to keep the choice content coming here on Real Deal Fundraising. Fair trade, huh?)
These phones are already configured to work with a Verizon go-phone plan, which was far cheaper than long distance fees. They are also used phones so they are super-cheap – less than $17 each. My phonathon campaign was scheduled to be one month long so we paid for one month of prepaid phone access: $50 for each phone. Bonus: when you go to the Verizon store to sign up for your multiple prepaid, burner phone plans, you feel like a bad guy from a Law and Order SVU episode!
Total for each phone “station”: $96
Total to equip my five callers: $480
OVERALL SHOESTRING BUDGET
I also spent $100 on 4, $25 gift certificates to use as weekly incentives for performance.
Overall my budget looked like this:
As for data, I pulled the prospects via queries in Raiser’s Edge and then used that spreadsheet to create calling sheets via a mail merge. We went through a couple of iterations to get the information in the most intuitive place for the callers but ultimately it worked well.
Overall, the program raised over $15,000 which was a great return on investment and we added over 25 new recurring gift donors as well.
If your institution doesn’t have a huge budget but needs the personalized contact that a phonathon program provides, you can create a “pop-up” phonathon program on a shoestring budget that is efficient and effective.
Do you outsource, use automated software or have a manual phonathon? Or do you need to start a pop-up phonathon for your institution? Comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged!
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.