Advancement Blog

Why you shouldn't hang up on your phone giving program

By Dana Gresko

With fiscal year 2017 in the books for most institutions, it's time to look back and see what we learned in the past year. Our cross-channel analytics reveal valuable insight into FY2017 trends, including where—and how—donors prefer to give and what this means for institutions looking to revamp their long-standing phone giving efforts.

Evidence of a giving channel migration

One trend we've been following over past years has been the movement of donors away from the phone as a primary giving channel. This is not a trend that is unique to higher education—there's a dramatic effect on the overall charitable giving landscape.

As we look at mid-size private institutions within our EAB Advancement Marketing Services partner dataset, the number of donors generated by phonathon declined by an average of 21% compared to fiscal year 2013. It’s been a steep, steady decline in phone giving for schools of all types since 2010, with few programs bucking the trend or holding steady.

At the same time, web giving has been on the rise. Digital channels are increasingly replacing phone as a primary driver of gifts, and schools are getting better at reaching alumni online. Looking again at mid-size private institutions, the number of donors giving to a web appeal has increased an average of 38% since FY13.

We've seen that web giving is up 38% over the past five years while phone giving is down 21% for the same cohort of schools. But are these the same donors? Are these alumni getting rid of their landlines and moving on to become web donors?

What channel migration means for your phone giving programs

It might surprise you to learn that less than a quarter of FY2017 web donors had any recent phone contributions. On average, the midsize private cohort saw only 23% of their web donors in FY2017 come from the pool of donors who made a phone gift sometime since FY2013. What this tells us is that the channel migration we’re experiencing is not a matter of phone donors deciding to "get with the times" and start giving online. Those phone donors are, in many cases, lost altogether. And the web donors that are coming to replace them in the school’s overall donor count are primarily new or web-loyal donors.

What does this mean for your own solicitation strategy? One takeaway from this data is that the best way to make a phone program smaller and smarter (and stay ahead of the declining phone trend) is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your channel data. Specifically, make sure you can identify those alumni who are phone-loyal: they always or nearly always give by phone. This will allow you to focus precious resources on calling this group, rather than wasting time and resources on a large-scale phone program that is increasingly losing money.

For donors who were previously giving by phone but have since moved on to other channels, including them as part of your broader digital strategy is your best chance to retain them into the future. Identifying those phone donors that have also shown willingness to give online is the key to categorizing your donor base to make sure you reach donors with the right mix of outreach across channels.

Do you have the resources you need to plan, execute, and analyze your annual giving campaign?

As you approach calendar year-end, it's especially important to analyze your team's performance and find areas that require increased focus. Our quick diagnostic can help you evaluate the strength of your advancement strategies.

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