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Why should universities represent their telethons online?


Since somewhere between 2002-2005 telephone fundraising has been broadly accepted as a fundraising method in Higher Education. Telethons firsts popped up in the early 1990’s and took a good 10 years to become integral to annual giving in the HE sector.

There is a huge amount of evidence to prove that these campaigns work, and well established consultancies and telephone software providers offer various services.

The recent Telephone Preference Service (TPS) legislation in the UK presents a threat to this cornerstone of the annual giving program. Some universities have had their call list reduced by half due to lack of correct contact permissions. Obviously there are ways to solve these problems – all of which cost time and require investment………but can this obstacle force universities to evaluate, update, advance and integrate their online giving strategy?

This post looks at:– the problem with poor online representation– examples of good uses telethons & online fundraising intergration (i.e Giving Days)– the high level benefits of representing telethons online

Online giving forms are antiquated

It is not good enough to just have a 20th century clunky donation form. Donors expect fast easy ways to donate; it only takes one or two clicks to buy something on Amazon – why should it take 10 minutes to give to my old university?

A donation form is not an online giving strategy – it is an annoying donor journey, and a poor giving experience (see this post about the dangers of ‘ugly’ donation forms).  The majority of these forms are not mobile responsive, are difficult to use and a hassle to complete. I hate to think what the drop out rates on some of these forms are but Ofcom has reported that 33% of all internet access is through a mobile device while in the USA the share it even higher.

Look, I am not saying that telephone campaigns are a thing of the past, done well they are the annual giving cash cow and are here to stay, but they can be expensive and they could be so much more effective if they were integrated online.

So what does this look like………….what is already happening?

Giving days

Giving Days have arrived in the sector, here are some good examples are from Boston University and Washington State University in the USA where forward thinking and established Advancement teams have embraced this type of giving. Giving Days really take the thought of integrating a telephone campaign online and throw in every other annual giving activity for good measure.

Running a Giving Day is complicated, it requires:

PlanningOutreachIdentification of ambassadorsSharing of materialsMulti-channel launch and askFlawless donor journeySocial media integration and sharingGift fulfilment and registryTax efficiencyCRM integrationAutomatic stewardship

And………….most importantly: all of these should be assisted and provided for by technology that best suits your needs. Technology will directly impact on strategy, functionality and success & should be the first port of call when considering this type of campaign. Duncan Knox explains more on how to choose a Giving Day platform provider.

A Giving Day put simply is one day in the year where all fundraising activities are focused and represented online. This certainly includes telephone fundraising as we know it, in a fairly intensive way.

Going from a clunky donation form from 2001, to an integrated multichannel, socially connected, Giving Day is a huge leap over a deep puddle with no clear view of a dry landing, it can seem a difficult thing to achieve and a scary thing to try……..but is there a well placed stepping stone to help you get to the other side?

There are a few good examples of representation of fundraising that is ongoing within the HE sector, is there any reason why this could not be done for telephone campaigns?  This type of representation could be the stepping stone required to cross that puddle. Integrating a telephone campaign and representing that part of the annual giving activity online, could not only enhance your campaign but also update your online giving options.

The high level benefits of representing telephone campaigns online

Caller engagement, buy-in and departmental involvement

To start with, a nice looking page with a good video message, targets and clear progress bars and statistics all serve to motivate callers, keep them on message and foster a team ethos and goal.  After-all it looks much better than numbers scribbled on a whiteboard or some calling technology that looks like Windows 2000.

Widen the ask

Telephone campaigns, by their very nature, are curtailed by the number of contacts to call. It is broadly the same list as last year or the year before that.  Telephone campaigns exclude anyone who is outside that list, for whatever reason, who would very happily donate.  By not representing the campaign online, it is almost a badly kept secret.

Pick up lost Alumni/external supporters and widen participation

If there is an online representation then it can increase the participation rate in general, especially from those outside the campaign, bringing them within the alumni network for years (and campaigns) to come.  Of course there needs to be promotion across social media and other communication channels, connecting with those that are outside of the call list or those that you are unable to call.

…….Missed calls…..missed opportunities.

What happens to alumni who callers cannot reach on the phone? Ordinarily they are sent a telethon sweep up (piece of paper) that may or may not arrive at the correct address. With the UK housing and rental market as it is, and the average age of property purchase at 31 the chances of missed alumni receiving these letters are low. Therefore, in general, this telethon follow-up has poor engagement.

Why is it not considered best practice to, at the very least, email these missed prospects directing them to a page that is in total alignment with your telephone campaign? Where they can still give quickly and easily without the needs to speak to anyone. If that page can be shared via donor social media accounts then even better…… is called social media for a reason!So, some big picture thinking – I hope that it helps highlight how integrated, digital online giving can have a positive impact when used to solve some common annual giving pain points.

Tom Sellers

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