This is the second in a series about ways to improve phonathon contact rates. Contact rate is one of the most important metrics in phonathon. To read the introduction to contact rates and first steps to take in improving them, click here.
The next steps to take (budget allowing) are to undertake wireless ID research and wireless append research. If you want to implement these strategies, you should be doing them now and coordinating the timing with your Basic Research and your Advancement Services department.
Wireless ID research
Wireless ID research should be added to your overall research program. This process looks at the numbers you do have on file and then tells you whether or not the number is a cell phone number. This research is very inexpensive and quick to undertake. You should do this step immediately after the results from your basic research (National Change of Address and phone append) have been integrated back into your database.
Does your database differentiate between a cell home and a home phone or does your database code primary phones as “preferred”? If so, you are making a grave error that could be damaging for your phonathon long term. The number marked as “preferred” could be a home phone, cell phone or business phone. While this method has other advantages, it can be a dangerous practice where phonathon is concerned, especially with the rise of cell phones as the dominant form of phone communication.
Consider a scenario where you have a cell phone number marked as preferred without knowing that the “preferred number” is a cell phone. You find a new land line through the research process. You then replace that preferred number (which is a cell phone) with the new land line. However, many newly acquired land lines are kept only for home security systems and not for taking calls. Now, your institution is providing phonathon with “preferred” data that is inferior for actually reaching prospects on the phone. You should know when you have a cell phone number and never replace a cell phone number with a land line.
I would recommend undertaking wireless identification research this year and using it to re-code all known/found cell phone numbers as “cell phone” (not as “preferred”). This process may be tedious the first time you do it and may involve changing some of the processes by which data is pulled and transferred to your calling software but it is necessary for the long-term health of your phone fundraising program. Make sure you coordinate and partner with Advancement Services to get this done.
Wireless append research
When I began full-time work in phonathon in 2005, wireless append did not even exist. You could undertake advanced level research but only to find a new land-line. According to a study conducted by the CDC, 35.8% of American households are cell phone only households. In the South, households are more than 37% wireless only. The CDC also tracks “wireless mostly” households which primarily take calls on a cell phone. For households nationwide, when you combine wireless only and wireless-mostly households, over 53.4% of households use their cell phones for most or all calls.
Given this strong demographic shift to cell phone usage, it is imperative that institutions undertake a strategic research plan to acquire cell phone numbers. However, few institutions can afford to send their entire database through wireless append research.
I recommend being strategic with the groups that are sent off for wireless append research. The first group that should be sent are those known as “historic deletes” (also known as invalids or lost alumni) for whom you have no good phone number on file. This will build your record counts of callable alumni over time.
Then you should work your way down the donor ladder, sending lybunts (last year but unfortunately not yet this year), followed by sybunts (“some year but” 3-5 year past donors) and then lapsed and future donors, as budget allows. The future donors (non-donors) can be prioritized by graduation year, sending your lowest contact rate decades first. On average, Ruffalo Noel Levitz clients using cell append raised $78,982 from 876 pledged donors that were unreachable before.
We did a wireless append project when I worked at Southern Miss. We spent roughly $8,500 and made all of that back and more in only a few weeks of calling those records. The next year saw an increase of over 25,000 new records for calling. A big win all around!
Budget allowing, you should do some strategic wireless append research every year. You can undertake this research anytime and then load the “found” records into a special calling pool. This way you can track the dollars raised from these records and easily assess the return on investment on the research.
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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.