Phonathons: The Fundraiser’s Ultimate Guide & 14 Top Tips

Phonathon campaigns are a common method for many non-profit organizations, especially in higher education, to raise money while simultaneously engaging donors. While the benefits of a phonathon campaign are fairly straight-forward, running a successful campaign is no easy task.

Many organizations take advantage of the fundraising opportunities phonathons provide. However, most don’t think about the potential of incorporating matching gift promotions into phonathons.

By adding matching gifts to your phonathon strategy, your campaign will see even greater success. Matching gifts offer the potential of doubling an expected donation amount. If you can capitalize on that potential during your phonathon, you’ll see a massive increase in funds brought in.

7 General Tips for Running a Successful Phonathon Campaign

Phonathon Tips - Focus on the Larger Mission

Focus on the Larger Mission

The most successful fundraising campaigns are focused on more than raising a certain dollar amount. If you can help donors understand why your cause is a worthy one, then you are far more likely to succeed.

To illustrate our point, take a look at two possible phonathon script introductions:

Phonathon Script Introduction #1:

“I’m calling on behalf of university x to raise money for our annual phonathon campaign. Would you consider making a donation of $100 to the university’s endowment fund?”

Phonathon Script Introduction #2

“I’m calling on behalf of university x to raise money for our annual phonathon campaign. Would you consider making a donation of $100 to the university’s endowment fund? Every dollar you donate will go to scholarships for students in financial need

See the difference? In both cases, the caller is asking for the same dollar amount, but in our second example the donor understands how their donation will be helping someone in need.

By highlighting the larger purpose of the campaign, you can motivate both donors and callers to feel good about what they’re doing!

Phonathon Tips - Create a Standardized Phonathon Script

Create a Standardized Script

For most of your callers, this will be their first phonathon campaign, and the idea of getting on the phone with alumni to ask for donations can be extremely intimidating.

Creating a standardized script can help ease the nerves of new callers and standardize your donor’s experience. Here are the key components to any phonathon script:

  1. Introduction: Answers the questions: Who are you? What is your relationship to the organization running the campaign? Why are you calling?
  2. Statement of larger purpose: Why is your organization asking for donations? What will the contributions be used for?
  3. First Ask: Make the initial request for a donation. What is the suggested donation amount? If the donor has made a donation previously, how much should the caller suggest they donate this year?
  4. Gift Confirmation: Success! How do we close the deal? How do we deal with different payment methods?
  5. Answers to common objections: Not everyone wants to donate. How do we respond to common objectives such a lack of interest, recent issues with the organization, or other giving priorities?
  6. Non-Pledge Close: For those calls that don’t end in success, it’s important to help close the conversation gracefully to maintain the relationship with the donor.

Creating a great script is arguably the most important step to planning your phonathon since it’s a resource that every caller will use. Spend significant time working with your organization’s communication director to put this resource together.

Phonathon Tips - Practice with Mock Calls

Practice With Mock Calls

Having a team of well-trained callers is the secret to any successful phonathon campaign.

Prepare callers by holding mock calls where they read through the script and respond to a variety of different “donor personas.” See how they respond when a donor has questions about the campaign, voices objections, or wants to pay with methods that require the caller’s participation like a credit-card over the phone.

This strategy will help you callers feel more at ease when it comes time to dial a real donor’s phone number.

Phonathon Tips - Schedule Calls when Donors are Home

Schedule Calls When Your Donors are Home

One of the common challenges for phonathon callers is simply reaching the donor in the first place.

Improve the chances you’ll reach your donors by calling during the hours when your donors are most likely to be home and not busy with other activities.

  • Monday – Thursday, 6:00 PM – 9:00PM. If you call within this time window, most donors will be home from work. Also, it’s early enough that you reduce the risk of waking anyone up (tip: cranky donors rarely give donations).
  • Sunday, 5:00 – 9:00 PM. At this time on a Sunday, most donors will be finished with their weekend errands and are likely available.

Make sure that you’re planning on reaching donors when they’re at home for the greatest fundraising success.

Phonathon Tips - Set Nightly and Weekly Goals

Have Your Callers Set Fundraising Goals

It’s been proven that setting goals greatly increases the chance of success.

Encourage your callers to set nightly or weekly donation goals, and then reward callers who reach their goals with a small bonus. This technique rewards successful callers and instills a sense of accomplishment when they meet their goals.

It also helps your organization keep track of how many donations you’re bringing in within a certain timeframe.

Phonathon Tips - Use Phonathon Management Software

Use Phonathon Management Software

Common tasks that phonathon software handles include:

  • Managing and updating your donor database.
  • Automating pledge verification via email.
  • Tracking call results.
  • Issuing reports on campaign progress.
  • And more!

Purchasing phonathon software from a well-established vendor such as industry leader Wilson-Bennett can save you time, money, and many of the technical headaches that would ordinary get in the way of a successful campaign.

By automating these time-consuming tactical tasks, you can spend your time managing callers and increasing donations.

Phonathon Tips - Remember Matching Gifts

Remember Matching Gifts

Last, but certainly not least, your callers should always be asking donors if their employer offers a matching gift program.

By encouraging donors to take advantage of their employer’s matching gift program, your campaign can increase the potential value of each donation you receive and boost the overall success of the phonathon campaign.

For ideas, please check out our list of top ways to promote employee matching gifts

Phonathon Tips from the Experts at Wilson-Bennett

Ensure training is ongoing throughout the campaign and each caller receives assistance, along with reminders before calling begins each session.

When we work with our clients we always encourage callers to excel while teaching methods to overcome negative comments. During training, the Phonathon Director should explain campaign policies and procedures, ensuring callers make the highest quality call on behalf of your institution.

Phonathons have proven to be a vital part of the annual fund and the donor pyramid.  There is simply no better way to generate new donors than a well-managed phonathon campaign.

Actively manage your call center. Evaluate and make adjustments as calling is taking place.

“Play chess with your phonathon” – Matching the right prospects up with the right caller makes for a great connection, conversation, and ultimately a gift.   Your alumni and student callers will both enjoy the ability to connect with prospects that share similar traits and experiences.

A well-trained student caller will always be the engine of a successful phonathon.

7 Essential Matching Gift Tips to Maximize Your Phonathon Results


Using matching gifts to boost phonathon funds starts and ends with your callers. Your callers are the voice of your campaign, working hard to help you fulfill your mission. Callers need to be prepared to both speak to and answer questions a prospect may have regarding matching gifts.

Train your callers accordingly.

For matching gift training, consider these four components:

  1. Materials: Document how callers should ask about matching gifts and the process by which they should share company rules, guidelines, and instructions.
  2. Guest Speaker: Who at your organization is responsible for matching gifts? Invite him or her to speak with your callers.
  3. Practice Runs: Have your callers pair up and do trial runs on a few matching gift companies. Provide feedback as needed.
  4. Ongoing Coaching: Like with anything, there’s always room for improvement. Listen for matching gift asks during calls and provide guidance to improve techniques.

With proper training, you’ll situate your callers in the best possible position to make matching gift asks. Being a caller for a phonathon is no easy task. Ensure that your callers are confident in their respective abilities to ask for matching gift submissions by training them.

Phonathon Tips - Ensure Proper Training

Screening and Segmentation

Make the most of your callers’ time by screening and segmenting your calling list in terms of matching gift prospects.

Think of it this way, would you rather call 10 people and have 1 person respond positively or call 5 and have 3 people respond positively? By segmenting your contacts prior to reaching out, you’re ensuring that each call is more valuable.

Of course, call volume is always going to be crucial for successful phonathons, but if your organization can be even 10% more deliberate about who you’re calling, that’ll have a great impact on your call conversion rate.

For matching-gift-related segmentation, you’ll be enacting a three-point process.

First, pre-screen your file for matching gift eligibility.

It is likely that a sizable percentage of your existing prospects are matching gift eligible. Know who they are in advance.

Second, append relevant information to your file.

Append employer data and phone numbers to either your entire file or best prospects.

Third, segment your calling list accordingly.

Assign your best callers to matching gift eligible prospects. Or, call those prospects additional times. Not only are those candidates’ donations likely to get matched, but they are likely to have higher average donation amounts.

You might not currently know who of your prospects is matching gift eligible. That’s a knowledge gap you can close. Increasing eligibility awareness is only going to help your campaign. Give your callers the information they need to have the biggest impact.

Phonathon Tips - Include Matching Gifts in Scripts


Your phonathon callers should already be working from a script. Add matching gift copy to that script.

Consider the ABC’s of incorporating matching gifts into your scripts:

A: Ask every time. Few donors are thinking about matching gifts. Let them know about the potential.

B: Be persistent. Donors sometimes default to, “I don’t think so,” when asked if their company will match their donation. Have callers ask for an employer name and then quickly research that specific company.

C: Come prepared. If a donor submitted a matching gift in the past, come to the call prepared with the company’s matching gift information. Make the process simple and easy for your donors.

Let’s walk through an example how to properly incorporate matching gifts into your script.

Typically, a normal phonathon call will consist of the following steps:

  1. The caller introduces herself and the organization that’s fundraising.
  2. The caller asks the potential donor if he is willing to donate.
  3. The potential donor says yes/no
  4. If the answer is no, the caller politely thanks the prospect for his time and ends the call.
  5. If the answer is yes, the caller begins the donation process with the new donor and helps guide him through the experience.

Once the donation is secured, have your caller make the matching gift ask.

Use a template similar to this:

Do you know if you or your spouse works for a company which offers a matching gift program? I’m happy to do a quick check to see if your company will double or possibly triple your donation.

The donor needs to know that he will not need to submit any additional funds, but rather, just a request to his company.

Scripts take the guesswork and pressure out of calls. Plus, if your request process is standardized, you’re in a better position to evaluate and adjust according to the results.


Become a Matching Gift Expert! Grab our Free Ultimate Guide to Matching Gifts.

Phonathon Tips - Prepare for Questions from Donors


Ensure your callers are prepared to answer questions, such as:

Making sure that everyone is on the same page with regard to these questions will help ensure that your callers can give donors the best possible information about matching gifts.

Phonathon Tips - Provide Educational Resources


Do callers have the information they need to help donors?

Once a donor has expressed interest in requesting a matching gift, you want your caller to be able to help in any way he can. Don’t miss out on a matching gift due to a technical issue.

Provide your callers with access to:

  • Employee eligibility
  • Match ratios
  • Match amounts
  • Forms and guidelines
  • Submission deadlines
  • Submission instructions
  • And more

Keeping your callers up-to-speed on matching gift particulars will help them answer common questions from donors.

Phonathon Tips - Follow-up with Match Eligible Donors

Follow-up with Match Eligible Donors

Matching gifts are free money.

There is an estimated $6-$10 billion in matching gifts unclaimed annually.

Help reduce those numbers.

If someone has expressed matching gift interest on the phone with one of your callers, your organization has to follow-up. Following-up is the best way to increase the likelihood of your turning an interest into an action.

Immediately after the conversation, send an email with matching gift request instructions.

You’ll also want to include matching gift reminders across various donor communications, including:

  • Pledge Acknowledgments: Add matching gift reminders to all pledge acknowledgments and reminders.
  • Thank Yous: Make sure that your thank yous for pledge payments highlight matching gifts.
  • End of Year Reminders: Matching gift submission deadlines vary. Many of them are very generous and tend to coincide with the conclusion of the calendar year. This is a great time to follow-up with any donors who were match eligible.

A well-timed, well-executed follow-up can be exactly what your organization needs to secure a new matching gift.

Phonathon Tips - Track and Incentivize Callers

Create a Tracking Method and Incentives

Are your callers held accountable and rewarded for their matching gift performance?

Ensure that callers know how important matching gifts are to your phonathon by implementing tracking with incentives.

Goal setting has been proven to help increase the likelihood of success in any given situation. Phonathons are no exception.

Maybe you want to establish weekly goals.

Maybe you want to establish nightly goals.

Either way, giving your callers something to work towards will only help your fundraising efforts.

Incentives give you a positive way to track caller proficiency and efficiency. Tracking will help you define where your phonathon is going well and where it has room for improvement. Once you’ve isolated those areas, you are in a great position to adjust as needed.

There are plenty of opportunities to make the most of your tracking results:

  • Identify any knowledge gaps and situations where more training is needed.
  • Assign your best callers to any prospects who have submitted matching gifts in the past.
  • Have your best callers follow-up on any pledges marked as match eligible.

Whether it is your organization that sets the goals or it is your individual callers that set them, you should have a system in place of tracking and reaching those aims.

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