Summer Checklist: Rethink Your Call Center

The dog days of summer are officially here. The office is a little quieter and the only thing filling up your inbox are Out of Office replies. It’s a great time to step back and tackle some bigger issues that usually sit on the back burner. Welcome to our Summer Checklist

The phone is dead.

Long live the phone.

Turns out tales concerning the demise of the telecenter’s role in the annual fund may have been greatly exaggerated. It’s place might be as central as it once was, but there’s still plenty of ways for it to add value to your broader strategy.

The key is to actually put some thought into it. Cold outreach has been a tried and true tactic for annual fund shops for decades. Give student callers a list and a script, stick them at a table with a phone and have them dial away.

Set it. Forget it. Repeat for decades.

OK well that method has definitely run its course. But don’t toss those phones in the trash just yet! Rethink your call center and it can still have a big impact on your efforts.

It takes a little bit of effort, some creativity and a willingness to experiment, but if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll reap the reward.

Call with a Specific Purpose

Just to be clear, “getting a donation” isn’t specific enough. That’s your purpose, but what about the person on the end of the line. Their purpose isn’t to donate money. It’s to support a cause that’s important to them.

Luckily, you can have a pretty good idea of what they’re likely to support before you ever pick up the phone. If you go in with a plan, it can be a huge uplift to your conversation.

If you’re trying to raise money for a specific cause, this is the perfect tactic to take. Recently Boston University was generating money to turn a 100-year-old building on campus into an Alumni Center. They posted about the initiative on their various social platforms, and monitored engagement data to see who reacted positively to the initiative.

When it came time to get serious about raising money, they pulled lists of the people who’d engaged on social for their callers.

The result of marketing a specific cause over the phone?

BU typically had typically seen a 30% conversion rate. But when they called people to talk about donating to the conversion specifically, that number more than doubled to, get this, 75%.   

Think Outside Higher-Ed

Higher ed might have the reputation for big banks of people making phone calls to solicit prospects en masse, but it’s not the only industry who relies on the phones to do business. It’s not the only industry that often relies on a script for employees to follow either. Which means you can get inspiration from interesting places.  

Which is exactly what happened when John Morris happened upon an article about Zappos, the eCommerce giant, getting rid of their call-center script . A light went off for the Senior Vice President of Advancement at Kansas State University.

“(Zappos) got rid of (their script),” John told us, “and they taught their staff to ask probing questions to solve the problem, specifically to each caller.”

Soon, KState’s script was gone, too. In its place their student callers had one directive: Ask probing questions, just like Zappos.

“What if we could ask probing questions to get to get to a gift that’s going to be gratifying and meaningful to that specific caller?”

Turns out, they could do just that. John’s team developed an algorithm that provides callers with three things they believe, based on data, each caller will be interested in donating to. Then, when student callers get on the line, they ask questions to find out more about those topics and gauge interest in their willingness to make a donation in support of it.

A year after adopting the technique, it’s safe to say that article John read was worthwhile. KState’s scripted calls lasted an average of 2 minutes and 58 seconds (for callers to tell them “No” three times, John points out).

Without a script, students were on the phone with prospects for over 17 minutes per call.

“We are giving them the same experience that they would get if a gift officer was sitting on their sofa enjoying a cup of coffee with them: “What’s important to you and how do I provide an experience that’s going to be most meaningful.””

Think About Who’s on Your Side of the Phone

Fundraising call centers are a hotbed of student activity. But how many of them really want to be there? How many of them are just there, getting through a set number of calls because they have to for class credit? (Author thinks back to college and quickly raises hand.)

That’s not how it has to be. Some students want to be there. Especially if you make it a valuable experience that’s going to benefit them in the long run.

Kansas State seeks out students who are already interested in philanthropy and will be dedicated to the work. Instead of a quick crash course a few minutes before they pick up the phone, they take time to properly train them and make sure they feel like they’re a part of the fundraising team, inviting them to staff meetings and summits.

They’ve transformed their call center into the first step on a career path for students. It instills a sense of pride in the job, and KState does treat it like a job: Students are expected to dress for the part each time they come in.

John also made it a point to make it the highest-paying student job on campus so they could attract the most talented students on campus.

Not every advancement team will have the resources to do so, of course, but there are a ways to elevate the role to instill pride in the work and make sure those students are incredible representatives for your school.

Check back later this week for more installments from our Summer Checklist. Next up we’re tackling social data.