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.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.