Five Key Strategies to Revive a Struggling Phonathon

By | June 21, 2018

It’s often the case when struggling to reach their goals, managers will dig deep into the data to root out any problems that might be holding them back. While getting into the weeds is sometimes a good way to help push an already successful campaign over the top, there are times when looking at the fundamentals is much more useful in gauging the overall health of a phonathon program.

If you find an important part of your operation has a flaw, you can be sure that fixing it with broad strokes is going to be faster, easier and more efficient than making up for the loss by managing individual performance. Before you commit time and energy to picking apart the details, take a step back and consider the following aspects of running a successful phonathon.

Clean Your Data

Working with incomplete records and wrong numbers is guaranteed to impede your overall success, regardless of any other factors you can control. Knowledge driven by quality data is the foundation on which to build a successful phonathon.

Knowledge driven by quality data is the foundation on which to build a successful phonathon.

There are a few steps you can take to quickly assess whether your data is up to scratch. First, look for missing records. If you notice a significantly lower number of records, question whether this was a conscious decision or if a mistake was made. Second, look for missing pieces within the records. If you have an unusually large number of records with missing addresses, gift histories or contact records, this might be a red flag. Third, look for bad data. If you notice your prospects frequently correcting records or have a high pick-up rate coupled with a low contact rate, confirm that your data integrity was not compromised.

The solution depends entirely on the source of the problem, whether it’s human error, transfer error or a corrupted database. The best safeguard against most problems of this kind is to maintain a set of procedural guidelines and enforce them through training and checks. If your organization doesn’t have a policy and procedure regarding the flow of data between your phonathon and your CRM, it might be a good time to develop one.

Minimize Idle Time

While we try to distance ourselves from the world of for-profit telemarketing, it can be useful to take lessons from the methods they use to avoid unproductive time. Idle time between calls can quickly accumulate, resulting in unattempted numbers and lost opportunities.

Setting a goal for call attempts is a good way to remind callers of their need to stay on task. If you assume the average conversation takes around five minutes and the average unanswered attempt takes around 30 seconds, a goal of 60-70 calls per hour is fairly reasonable, depending on how many calls result in a conversation. If you’re manually dialing from handsets instead of terminals, you can expect to double the time it takes to attempt a call and should adjust your goal accordingly.

Encourage your callers to use the ring time to complete their post-call work and their pre-call preparation. There are times when this isn’t possible, of course, but you can reduce any unproductive time off the phones by reducing or simplifying the work not directly related to calling to the point where it can be completed without losing focus on the next call.

Create cheat sheets for callers to use to plan their conversation while waiting for the prospect to answer the phone. It’s particularly useful for new staff to have an abbreviated script with common responses and objections to guide them until they get comfortable with their own conversational style. By having this information at their fingertips, callers will be less likely to need time off the phone to prepare themselves.

Don’t Rush the Call

While having a call attempts goal is important, callers may feel the urge to reduce their average call duration to meet that goal. The primary purpose of a phonathon is not best served by having as many short, rushed conversations as possible.

The primary purpose of a phonathon is not best served by having as many short, rushed conversations as possible.

The average time for a phone to ring before transferring the call to voicemail is 20-35 seconds. If your caller is waiting for less than 30 seconds, the prospect may not have enough time to acknowledge that their phone is ringing, pick up the phone and answer up the call. Train your callers to wait at least 30 seconds after the number has been dialed before moving on to the next call.

Some managers set goals for call duration and this can be helpful in keeping the discussion on track. However, using the goal as an indiscriminate rule leads to truncated conversations and poor relationships. Remember that the job of callers is to build meaningful connections with their prospects in order to gain their support. If the manager is standing behind them with a stopwatch, the prospect is unlikely to feel valued or heard and is much less likely to give.

Recognize Hidden Talent

A common practice is to the assign the most reliable callers to current, LYBUNT and SYBUNT segments, reserving lapsed and future donors for the less experienced or weaker callers. While it’s easy to see the logic behind that strategy, it can have the effect of leaving talent on the table. Newly hired callers are assumed not to be capable of taking on the task, but are rarely given the opportunity. Your future top performers may very well be your newest callers, so create an environment that nurtures their abilities.

While it’s unlikely your most loyal donors will abandon you after a shaky phone call, you need to be sure that they are assigned to experienced callers most of the time. However, giving promising new callers a trial period in donor segments is a good way to test the waters. It won’t take long to see whether or not they’re up to the challenge, but it’s best to wait until your best callers have had the chance to call through the donors first.

Another often overlooked source of opportunity is callbacks. Impatient managers may see the callback as a less confrontational way for a prospect to refuse the ask, which is definitely true in some cases. At the same time, there are many valid reasons to request a callback, especially around the end of the fiscal year, the calendar year and tax-filing season. If the original caller is unable to reach them next time, put their record into a callback cleanup segment to be called towards the end of the campaign, rather than considering it a de facto refusal.

End on a High Note

When all’s said and done, the prospects you call in this campaign are likely to be on your list for a future campaign, so it’s crucial that the relationships you’re building are not soured by the experience. A successful phonathon will not only raise capital, it will foster positive feelings for your prospects that will pay off the next time you call.

A successful phonathon will not only raise capital, it will foster positive feelings for your prospects that will pay off the next time you call.

Regardless of the outcome, make sure the caller ends the call on a positive note, thanking them for their time and making sure they know to expect a call in the future. The almost universal adoption of caller ID means that your prospect knows exactly who is calling. Make sure that your contacts are enjoyable and mutually beneficial to ensure that the next call is warmly welcomed.

In the call center, your callers take on a small-scale version of the gift officer role. As facilitators of gifts and representatives of your organization, it’s important that they also take on the responsibility of being the first point for stewardship and donor engagement. Create a process for writing thank-you notes and possibly follow-up calls from either the caller themselves or another member of the team. Building a donor relations element into the phonathon establishes the expectation for the donor that their gifts will be recognized and appreciated from the moment they give.

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