The support that donors give to educational institutions is invaluable.

That being said, getting individual donors to pledge support and cultivating their loyalty is not always easy, especially in times when a global financial crisis is looming on the horizon. 

For that reason, charities and educational institutions are on the lookout for the most effective and efficient means of raising money.

As such, phone campaigns make for an excellent complement to other communication forms, such as email, direct mail, and all the other channels.

Fundraising professionals and volunteers can call donors to follow up on an email message, direct mail piece, or an SMS to give it an added layer of donor-cause connection and personalization.

To get the most out of phone fundraising, educational institutions need to be aware of certain obstacles and difficulties facing their fundraisers. 

Sticking to “Free” Processes

Obviously, a university doesn’t want an unnecessarily extravagant and expensive fundraising campaign solution or approach.

That’s why so many university fundraising teams stick with low-cost or free solutions: paper, a spreadsheet, or home-grown databases that are managed manually. 

If your campaign is small, this may work fine. 

However, as your donor base and associated outreach grow, your approach must scale with it. What you once managed just fine on paper or a simple spreadsheet gets time-consuming and confusing when you increase your target population of donors. 

It’s a recipe for negative ROI or, at the very least, a less successful campaign than you could have had if you selected the right solution.


The trick is to evaluate your process. 

How much time are you spending compiling call sheets or spreadsheets? 

How much time do callers spend on manually filling out forms, looking up donors, and maintaining a list? 

Do a time study, then compare that to the time your team takes with a multichannel donor engagement solution, such as VanillaSoft. You’ll notice that student fundraisers have more time to reach potential donors and raise more money instead of trying to manage a constituent list, update records, and do all the legwork associated with it. 

Failing to Pay Attention to Scripts

Almost every institution out there has some type of script for their student fundraisers to use. 

For smaller organizations, it may be tempting to copy the successful scripts of other universities. 

Phone fundraising challenges

That said, when doing your research on successful scripts, keep in mind that you should look for insights only. Your school has its own mission and values that you should reflect in your fundraising appeals. Copying a script from another organization may water down (or worse, confuse) your message with potential donors. 

Equally, you should avoid recycling your scripts each year. If they seem repetitive and familiar to you, no doubt your donors will notice the same. Instead, refresh and update them on a regular basis. 

Segment-specific scripting and messaging, that is, tailoring different messages for every segment of your target audience to reflect their preferences and interests, will help to make the call feel more personal to the individual. 


Come up with your own messaging or contact a local marketing or public relations firm that does pro bono work to get a compelling, mission-specific message.

Another consideration when thinking about call scripts has to do with implementation. 

Training and role-playing using the script with team members certainly help to educate your fundraising team. 

However, a software platform that includes interactive talk tracks will make it even easier for your student fundraisers to maintain natural, engaging conversations with constituents. This feature keeps your team on message, puts objections and rebuttals at their fingertips, and helps them quickly gather information and responses.

Not Using Auto Dialing and Next-Best Donor Logic

If your team has hundreds or thousands of people to call, manual dialing is just going to limit your ability to reach donors quickly. 

Besides, if you leave it to your student fundraisers to decide whom to call next, they won’t be able to categorize constituents precisely and accurately, taking all their preferences and past giving behavior into account.  

Needless to say, this will negatively impact your donations.


Nothing beats a data-driven approach to donor prioritization. 

Progressive auto-dialing, coupled with the next-best donor calling logic, will increase your contact rates and ensure you are reaching out to the best donors first, however you chose to define that.

This means prioritizing constituents based on any kind of criteria you want to focus on — giving history, affinity, event attendance, internal engagement scores, and the list goes on. Plus, the fact that your team will no longer have to manually punch numbers will make them more efficient and focused on having meaningful conversations with donors. 

As a result, you’ll see your ROI go up together with donor and fundraiser experience and satisfaction.   

Not Perfecting the Voicemail Message

Many times fundraisers do a lot of great work to perfect the call script, but they forget to perfect the voicemail message script. 

A voicemail message is an important part of the message you want your donors to hear. 

If your student fundraiser’s message is confusing or rambling, you probably won’t get a callback, and the donor may still screen your calls. 


Check out our sales voicemail tips. Although this resource is written for inside sales reps, many of those pieces of advice are applicable to fundraisers, too.

Fundraiser Recruitment and Training 

Of course, your student fundraisers are critical to the success of your phone fundraising efforts. 

Identifying people with the skills you need and then training them is necessary to get the most out of their invested time and effort.


Make sure to build a successful student fundraising team, but remember that it’s not a one-time thing, as their loyalty and retention go a long way

Your training should include an overview of the fundraising software you use (if any) and a review of your phone and voicemail scripts. 

Shadowing is a great idea when it comes to onboarding, so consider pairing up new hires with experienced team members to role-play calls.

Below you’ll find some recruiting advice.

  • Make it known that you need fundraisers by sharing this fact in the school’s newsletter, blog posts, social media posts, and email signatures. Posting flyers around the campus is another good way to get the word out.
  • Similar to seeking donations or closing a sale, your messaging should focus on the potential employee’s needs and not the institution’s.
  • Encourage your existing team members to recruit a friend to make it more enjoyable for them and increase your support.
  • Provide incentives that will motivate people to apply.
  • Inspire your team to support you again in the future by acknowledging their involvement and thanking them for their support.

Donor Retention 

Donor retention is a challenge that many nonprofit organizations and educational institutions face. 

The overall donor retention rate in 2022 was 42.6 %, which is a drop from the previous couple of years’ rates. For example, in 2019, it was 45.4%.

The first thing you should do when it comes to this issue is to take a realistic look at your numbers and identify your current performance level. 


Improve donor loyalty by gearing your messaging toward your supporters. 

Let them know how their gifts make a difference, what the funds are for, and why their continued support is so significant.

Another way to increase donor retention is by setting up recurring donations. Automating gift collection eliminates the need to have a fundraiser call them again in your next round of campaigning.

Following up is another key to retaining donors, as it will keep your school top of mind.

A personal thank-you call would influence many donors to give again.

Use a mix of outreach methods to follow up with donors, including social media, texting, email, phone calls, and direct mail.

New Donor Outreach 

Imagine walking up to a perfect stranger in the street and asking them to donate a certain amount for your cause. 

You’d probably feel awkward. 

That’s very likely the same sentiment your student fundraisers harbor when they have to pick up the phone and reach out to people they have never contacted before and ask them for a donation. 

So, how to make this less uncomfortable for both parties? 


First of all, although you may never have interacted with some of your prospective donors in the past, you can at least begin by calling those that you think are most likely to be interested in supporting your cause. 

How do you do that? By understanding your potential donors’ needs, beliefs, and interests and strategically segmenting your lists

In the process of finding new supporters, you’ll likely have better luck getting alumni to donate over non-alumni individuals, such as parents and friends of the university. They are likely to have the greatest level of affinity

Lastly, if your fundraising effort doesn’t already include some phone-based outreach, you should consider adding it. Using this old-school medium to reach out to prospective donors still works, especially when it’s combined with other channels.   

You should also make sure to host an attractive, intuitive giving page on your school or university website. 

While prospective donors may not immediately commit to a donation over the phone, they may come back to your website later to give. Also, ensure your fundraising page is mobile-optimized to meet the browsing preferences of your audience. 

Additional Tips on Asking for Donations

Apart from overcoming these challenges, there are some other areas that you can improve, thus expanding your donor base and increasing giving. 

Stay Positive (People Still Want to Support!)

If you find yourself still wondering whether it’s a bad time to ask for money right now, you’re not alone. Despite the unfavorable economic circumstances, many people are still willing to help.   

Phone fundraising challenges

For instance, even in the midst of COVID-19, people didn’t stop donating. Community colleges raised 47% more in the first nine months of 2020 than they did in all of 2019. Indeed, many VanillaSoft customers ran their most successful phone fundraising campaigns ever in FY21. Inside Higher Ed reports that since the end of April 2020, community colleges raised 47% more in the first nine months of 2020 than they did in all of 2019. Indeed, many VanillaSoft customers ran their most successful phone fundraising campaigns ever in FY21. 

Even where donation sizes or average gifts may have decreased, the number of donors (participation rate) may well have increased this year. That being said, some schools have also seen the inverse, with participation being down but average gift being up.

It’s important to remember that, generally speaking, people in a crisis want to help others who are also struggling.

Omnichannel Outreach

With the help of email, direct mail, SMS, video, and social media, why are you still only doing phone fundraising?

Develop an omnichannel strategy that incorporates all options for outreach and communication, including online and offline efforts, and allow donors to use their preferred channels instead of taking a siloed approach to campaigning. 

For instance, donors who prefer social media won’t miss the content in your newsletter because you also post it on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. That means you can occupy multiple spaces and not miss a single beat. 

(Psst… if you add our VoIP telephony to your software, you can enjoy all-in-one VoIP and SMS functionality that drives even more engagement. Just sayin’!)

Take video, for example. Previously the exception and now the rule, video-based communications will long be a part of fundraising because of its inherently engaging, personal nature.

There’s no doubt phone touches are critical to your higher education fundraising strategy, but your donors still value face-to-face interactions. So, video is a great tool to thank, update, and engage donors and potential donors alike. 

Plus, with a more effective cadence to reach out, you can really get to know your donors, track their engagement, and strengthen their desire to support and donate over time by raising both awareness and affinity. 

For example, send out direct mail or emails before a phone call, so student fundraisers can reference that content in their conversations. Include information about the impact their donations will make, as well as a link to a page on your site that shows the funding progress in real-time.

Tracking engagement with pre-campaign emails also enhances your ability to segment strategically and call your most engaged donors and prospects as a first priority. 

Tell (Even More) Authentic Stories 

Now more than ever, it’s important to craft meaningful content to translate why contributions will help solve the new challenges experienced by your students and institution. 

Personalized outreach makes all the difference.

Many top donors say they want more meaningful interactions, like hearing about research and discoveries and having more opportunities to mentor students.

With a ton of worthy causes competing for donations, you have to tell human stories unique to your institution and demonstrate the impact your donors’ gifts can have. 

Lock in Integration with a User-Friendly Giving Page

Another important element in your multi-channel approach is where you direct your potential donors to donate or fulfill their pledge.

It’s plain old smart to have an appealing and easily navigable giving page, but it’s not wise to only direct donors to it through one channel. You can easily implement phone fundraising campaigns, emails, personalized texts, and video channels alongside direct mail to increase ROI. It’s that simple.

Integration is key to aligning the donor experience, folks. And on your end, who has time to track metrics on multiple platforms that don’t connect? 

Plus, giving pages create more opportunities to be proactive and go the extra mile. When you see a donation come in, you can immediately thank your donor personally through the outreach channels they most respond to. 

The best part? 

You can customize your giving page to coordinate automatic follow-ups after donations or incorporate guided donations (i.e., $50, $100, $250) to encourage donors to complete a gift.

You also want to share tons of case studies, statistics, videos, and photos of beneficiaries to remind your donors why you need them in the first place. 

Technology Needs

The software you select for your volunteers should be simple to learn and enable them to complete their work efficiently and productively. 

Ease of use is the key here. With the student staff, you can expect high turnover; therefore, it’s critical to select a fundraising platform that is simple to learn and facilitates productivity and efficiency in the fundraising process.

Your fundraising software should include:

  • Call routing of the next best donor to dial.
  • Interactive talking tracks that let the caller know what to say.
  • Credit card processing to immediately accept payments.
  • Emails to donors acknowledging their gifts.
  • The ability to monitor calls and jump in if the volunteer needs assistance.

Collaborate with Colleagues

Drawing inspiration and insight from your peers can help you return to work rejuvenated and full of creative new ideas and strategies to apply in the year ahead. 

CASE conferences and other comparable events allow phone fundraising managers to seek advice and insight from their peers at other institutions. 

It also helps keep them on top of the latest trends and expert advice in marketing communications, fundraising, and other related topics.

Phone fundraising managers must not allow themselves to become complacent or fall into the pattern of recycling tired phone campaign materials. 

Instead, every campaign, shift, and call should represent an opportunity to hone and refine your approach so as to maximize engagement and participation over time.

Are You Ready for Your Next Phone Fundraising Campaign?

Technology has provided numerous avenues for educational institutions to raise funds. 

Phone calls, however, offer a chance to create one-to-one relationships with donors that can be hard to accomplish any other way. 

Short of face-to-face communication, phone calls are the next best thing when you want to appeal to a donor. 

If you’re looking for a way to increase your call rates, consider giving VanillaSoft a try. With a live demo, you can get a sense of how productivity increases can improve your fundraising initiatives.

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