Did Stanford boot the phonathon for all of us?

I’ll save you some time: No.

If you’re Stanford, who just cancelled their phonathon, (or Harvard or Princeton or one of maybe 15-25 other shops) where a couple dozen donors each year will drive hundreds of millions in giving, then, maybe you boot the phonathon.

I’d suggest, though, that the baby’s getting tossed out with the bath water.

The argument against phonathon for Stanford and really anywhere is: this impersonal appeal channel is terribly disruptive; particularly for so many of our alumni who barely use the phone feature of their mobile devices and increasingly don’t even have a landline.

Ok. I get it. Don’t we all get that? Haven’t we all gotten the sales call during a family meal?

[phone rings]

Me: “Hello?”

Sales Guy: “Hi, Mr. Deckerts?”

Me: “It’s ZECKETS.”

Sales Guy: “Oh, of course. Well, I wanted to talk to you about a timeshare in Cabo.”

Me: “No.”

I’ve actually taken to answering auto-dialers in random voices and making up ridiculous stories. It’s a pastime in our house. I get a chuckle and they don’t call back.

What’s wrong with phonathon, though, is what’s wrong with all our communication channels. It’s impersonal.

Reading the “bye bye phonathon” announcement I thought, “this is clever and funny.” It was. You know why? Because it was crafted for people like us who are in the trenches of engagement and fundraising. It was for us. But phonathon calls very rarely are.

What if, though, a student gave you a call that went like this:

[phone rings]

Me: “Hello?”

Student Caller: “Hi, Nick. My name’s Charlie and I’m a swimmer here at UofA like you were. Have a minute?”

Me: “Oh, hi. Happy to chat. You guys feeling fast this year?”

Student Caller: “You better believe it, Nick! Could use your help getting faster.”

Me: “No way. Really? Would love to see you all take it to the PAC12 this year. What’s up?”

Student Caller: “We’re raising some dollars to invest in training resources. We’d like to start using oxygen chambers and a few of our kids are having to work to bridge the scholarship and tuition gap. Think you could help us out this year?”

Me: “Yes!”

It might seem unlikely to pull that off, but it really isn’t. A little bit of student training, looking for more callers with more diverse experiences making fewer calls per person, and some better connective insights can definitively make that real. Today.

Would those dollars in aggregate be bigger than your top gift this year? Maybe not if you’re Stanford. But even there, what would it mean for the broadest definition of institutional support if our phonathon calls sounded like that?

I’m biased, but I think the answer is ‘a lot.'

What say you? And, the good folks over at AGN are hosting a chat on this. I know I'll be going.

Nick Zeckets