Colleges do it.  Public broadcasting still does it.  Should your K-12 school do it?

As schools look for additional sources of revenue today, and current parents tire of selling anything and everything from cookie dough to wrapping paper, a phonathon seems like an organized way to simply ask constituent groups for their financial support.However, before the banks of phones are reserved, and volunteers and contacted, there’s something that is essential to a phonathon’s success: a HUGE list of past and potential donors with verified phone numbers.  While this may be sufficient enough to dissuade many K-12 schools from venturing into phonathon territory, looking to “Next Practices” may suggest that currently successful phonathons may need to change the manner in which they operate.

Sales professionals have been hearing for quite some time that the “cold call” is dead, while there are some sales leaders that still require tout its essential nature.  I’ll agree that phone contact is important, but how a phonathon is conducted will soon begin to change.  Here are three reasons why:

1) As a sales professional, many of my calls to prospective customers are now “warm calls” to whom I have sent some preliminary information for review.  This way, the call is a follow-up to information, rather than the approach utilized by telemarketers who call at dinner or during the evening.  Further, with today’s mobile lifestyle, the potential customer may not be at home when that telemarketer calls, and with caller ID, the potential customer can ignore numbers which they don’t recognize. Examine your behavior when it comes to unexpected “sales” calls, then extrapolate that to every person on your calling list.  Even though calls made during phonathon aren’t “sales” calls, the telemarketer has helped to form the mindset of public, and therefore, shape the actions of members of the public regarding calls which they aren’t expecting.

2) My grad school Alma Mater did something different this year based on the above. They sent out a letter promoting their phonathon.  Nothing fancy – just a letter that a student, alum or university volunteer would be calling during the week of xx/xx/xxxx with a request for support, a quick paragraph about the importance of the drive, and a closing paragraph thanking me for consideration. A PS was added that said, “If business or circumstances finds you away from home during that week, please log on to http://(etc) and make your donation online.”  There’s even a place to categorize the contribution as a phonathon response.  Then, the phonathon can continue, but it changes…and becomes a “thankathon.”  Such an event would be great to do during November.

3) More proof that today’s supporters are acting differently than they have in the past.  My wife and I run a small non-profit to raise money to provide private music lessons to students in our school district’s competitive band program and orchestra.  We have an event the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and this past November marked the organization’s 10th anniversary with its 11th event.  About 5 years ago, we digitized our mailing list, and sent an email “Save the Date” blast 2 months before the event.  The official “invitation” wasn’t mailed; it was emailed a month before the event.   A week later, there were only 21 seats remaining for the event.  We personally contacted and invited 12 people that are regulars, but have never shared their email address.  All said they were coming, meaning there were only 9 seats remaining!  With a maximum of 90 guests, a 90% sell-out 3 weeks before the event means that we’ll need to seek a larger venue for the coming year!  We didn’t have to call a significant number of people as we had in past years.  For the past two years, the “Save the Date” blast goes out, with an online ticket partner, the event is 80% sold before the invitations are sent.

If you like change, this is an incredibly exciting time in history; if you don’t like change, just remember that marketing, development and education are, by their very nature, actions where change must occur.  You must change the mindsets of your audience and/or target market, and changes in behavior will follow.  If you expect your constituents simply to change behavior, your efforts may be prone to fail…unless you learn how to make change happen.  If you’d like help doing that, send me an email at, and include the word “Change” in the subject line.