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Some Phonathon Shortcuts Lead to Big Cuts in Productivity

Resource Center - Foundation

By Jason Fisher

Higher education phonathon veteran, Jason Fisher, senior operations manager and consultant at RuffaloCODY, offers his advice on ways to ensure your calling program is fresh, sharp and effective.

(Dec. 8, 2009) We're all guilty of taking shortcuts at times. We tell ourselves that finding a quicker way to get things done will make our jobs easier and our bosses happier. But before we stencil our name into the employee of the month trophy, consider that some time shavers in our industry have serious and often unforeseen consequences. What starts off as a good intention or a passing thought turns into a more serious issue down the road. We may not immediately notice a problem, but over a period of weeks, months and years, results can suffer.

Here are a few shortcuts in phonathons that aren't worth the time saved. 

Copying and Pasting Scripts and Training Materials - Some things get better with, cheese, wisdom, a good story, etc. But phonathon materials are not one of them. In fact, using the same materials year after year will leave your message stale and your prospects unimpressed. As a phonathon manager, your job is to deliver the vision of your institution or organization to your constituents. There is a tendency to believe that "If it's not broken, don't fix it." I think this is a mistake.

After hearing what is essentially the same scripted message two or three times in a row, your prospects will have a much easier time telling the callers no. If your students are tasked with persuading the prospects, then at the very least they need fresh verbiage--even if the general message and reasons to give have not changed all that much. Consistency is important in phonathons, but not at the expense of losing the listener. Take the time at the beginning of the campaign to fine-tune training materials and thoughtfully revamp your calling scripts. The quality of your calls will be better in the end.

No Announcements or Team Meetings with Staff - I believe good time management and efficiency are essential for running a top-notch phonathon. I like keeping team meetings concise and powerful, with good information for the callers to use. But I cannot see the logic in cutting out meetings altogether. Perhaps the announcements after break are not as important, but certainly taking five minutes at the beginning of the night to get everyone on the same page, deliver sound advice, and rally the troops is a wise investment of time. Students look to the manager for leadership. When their voice is absent, enthusiasm and focus tend to wane on the calling floor.

Using the Same Ask Amounts Year After Year - There is a place for repetition in your calling program, but not when it comes to ask amounts. I'm not an advocate of wild swings from one year to the next, but I do believe that you'll need to tweak ask amounts occasionally to make sure you're in line with what prospects are capable of giving and with the funding needs of the institution. Review your statistical results and listen to prospect reaction during the calls for clues as to where your ask levels should be. Symbolic ask amounts do work, though I always caution the programs I work with not to get too gimmicky. Anniversary asks or reunion/class year asks generally make for an extra incentive to give provided they are well placed within the ask structure and enthusiastically delivered by the caller.

The goal with any set of ask amounts is to maximize the productivity of the segment while providing incentive for the prospects to give. If you start your nondonors with $250 every year, there is little incentive to give at $250 after they have said no to that level 3 or 4 years in a row. Mix it up a little to keep their attention and get them thinking differently.

Lazy Coaching and Motivation - Supervisors or managers that cut corners in giving advice for improving results are asking for trouble. Going through the motions on coaching forms and not giving thorough feedback will eventually lead to subpar productivity with the staff. Playing the same games every night because management is too busy to be creative will result in callers who are bored and complacent.

I usually see these two issues pop up when managers are pressed for time in their administrative tasks. Sending out pledges cards, filling out timesheets, or doing other busywork are all tasks that are best done during daytime hours. With all due respect to hardworking managers, when the clock switches to calling hours the focus should be on the callers. Avoid the temptation to believe that callers will understand. They need your help and full focus to reach their goals and objectives. It's in your best interest to give 100 percent in this area of your job. After all, their results will be your results.

Not much is gained in the long run by taking too many shortcuts. What you gain in time you will lose in productivity. With all that is going on in the phonathon shop, it's easy to fall into the habit of just doing whatever was done in the past.

Contrary to the opinion of some people, phonathon does not run itself. It takes creativity, thoughtful planning, and diligent execution to get the most out of a program. My recommendation for managers on this subject is simple. Take the time to do things the right way. Being thoughtful is an investment, not an expense. The dividends that you will be paid in the end are worth the small inconveniences you'll face along the way.

Note: This article was reprinted with permission of Jason Fisher. It originally appeared on his blog.

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