Check out the images here:
For some fundraisers, it was a pearl clutching moment, how could they? For the rest of us, we stood and applauded! After all, less than 40 percent of homes have landlines and if you look at younger generations, that number decreases significantly! I'm not suggesting here that you all go out tomorrow and slash and burn your phonathon rooms.
But let's think about it.
Stanford is listening to their donor base, examining their ROI and investing and divesting accordingly. Bravo. Of course they have a huge endowment worth billions, other fundraising challenges, especially after Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcasts on higher education fundraising. (Haven't listened? Go, NOW!)
But this begs a question I've been shouting about all along- Are we segmenting and communicating with donors in the channels they prefer? Phonathons don't fail because we can't find phone numbers, they fail because they're inefficient and don't respect donor preferences, a leftover relic from the days of the telethon and Jerry Lewis. I and many others are never ever going to give a gift via phonathon, no matter how much I like your callers, I'm an online donor. So why do you call me? I don't even answer the number if it isn't in my contacts or a previously scheduled call- Let's think about it- It costs a great deal of money to employ a calling program. Have them call donors who give via phonathon ONLY. Acquisition via phonathon is expensive. Same for retention.
I get it, there are people that live for the day a poorly scripted caller making above minimum wage and bonused in pizza and redbull calls them from a dank basement on their alma mater's campus, they live for that! (I still don't know any of those people)
But in any case, we should be attempting to convert them to monthly donors and online donors, not just calling 10 to 20 times until we bait them into answering!
What could we be doing instead? Let's see, an average phonathon can cost tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine if we took 10% of that budget and put it into digital ad buys, promoted social media posts and engaging online collateral like video. We would again begin to be relevant. The problem isn't the phonathon or direct mail, it's that our programs are siloed and not integrated. It's that we're yelling into the wind and praying our donors are listening. With modern tools like EverTrue, Cerkl and others, we can find donors where they act, put them in the drivers seat and engage them based on their preferences.
Some say it's a revolutionary thing to say that Stanford is the first to eliminate their phonathon, but I have other clients that got rid of their calling programs a long time ago, they're just not Stanford. So it seems that they're on the leading edge. Or are they listening to their donors better than some of us? How are we proving that we are listening to our donors? Do we really know what they want? Are we honoring those preferences? I look forward to a robust debate in the comments, please keep it civil and remember somewhere on that beautiful campus in California there is a lonely basement. RIP. Comment away!