Soliciting phone donations— lessons from my alma mater

Woman_Business_iStock_000003177152_LargeTwo weeks ago, I received a call from the alumni office at my alma mater. A friendly and an upbeat voice greeted me. He was a freshman at the School of International Service. I thought to myself, “is this a donations call?”

Slowly but surely the call evolved into a conversation reviving a sense of belonging that motivated an action from my end… a donation pledge. But it also inspired me to think about the strategies higher education marketers use to solicit donations.

With my alma mater as a case-and-point example, here are a few things to keep in mind when drafting an alumni call script.

In most verbal exchanges, we look for clues and signals that somehow help us relate to the other person. A phone conversation is no different. When I learned that my caller was a current student, I was immediately more empathic, thinking about how he is walking the same path I took years ago. A fellow alumnus calling would have inspired a similar feeling— a big contract from, if say, an alumni office staff member was giving me a call.

When devising a call strategy, consider how an alumnus will relate to the caller.

Instead of the usual summary of why it’s important to contribute followed by a dry ask, I found myself engaged in a real conversation. The student shared a bit about what he is studying, his plans, and said he wanted to get an alumni insight on a career after graduation. With a few smart questions, I was prompted to tell him about my work and how our school had prepared me.

By sharing a bit about himself and seeking my thoughts, the caller encouraged a more genuine and engaging conversation.

The usual advice on formulating the ask, focuses on sharing the intent of the call immediately and ending with an ask for a precise donation amount. My experience makes the first part of this advice debatable. While my caller had preempted the ask indirectly by the mere merit of our conversation, he did not explicitly state that the reason for his call was to solicit a donation. He firstly established a genuine connection, and then organically reached a point where the ask felt appropriate and expected.

Regardless of when the explicit intent of the call is shared, building an emotional and personal case for why one should contribute will benefit the outcome.