News that Stanford decided to cease their student phonathon program has sent ripples through the higher education advancement — particularly annual giving — community.
Stanford’s advancement program is first-rate and it is a leader in the better and the emerging practice of higher education fundraising and alumni engagement.
Nevertheless, here are four things to keep in mind before you play taps for your own phonathon program.
First, Stanford didn’t say “we’ll never call you at all”. The announcement made clear contact would continue. So, while we know Stanford decided to nix their phonathon, we don’t know what they plan to do instead, which may or may not include increased emphasis on other communication, increased personal outreach, decreased… etc. Their decision was not made in a vacuum — we don’t know the other parts of their plan.
Second, the Stanford web announcement included this very telling statement: “But today, more and more people tell us they prefer to give in…when they’re ready, not when the phone rings.” That sounds to me like Stanford realizes the best “timing” for getting gifts from alumni needs to be based on each specific alumnus’ circumstances and timing…not the constructs of the annual giving calendar/plan.
Third, Stanford’s decision illustrates…Stanford’s decision. It reflects their institutional culture, priorities, and advancement strategies. It’s helpful to pay attention, but not to draw over-generalized conclusions.
Finally, a word about the telephone. In an age of smarter phones and ever-new social media, don’t overlook a phone’s most powerful feature: authentic, live, interpersonal communication.
Phones are not dead. In fact, the biggest “value-add” of phoning is arguably the the interpersonal, warm, and unscripted engagement between the institution and the caller. Stanford even acknowledged this: “But I liked talking with student callers! Students enjoyed chatting with you, too.”
More people have phones today than ever before and the functionality is light-years from the time of Bell’s invention. Yet the central innovation of the phone is unchanged: authentic, live-voice, interpersonal communication. It remains “the next best thing to being there” — much more so than texting, tweeting, and posting.
Want to add more value and content to your phone channel? Consider a Phonecast — a live, interpersonal event where you can have one person, like your president, call thousands of your alumni all at the same time to engage them in live Q&A and personal conversation. The best of fireside chat, NPR call-in shows, and your biggest alumni gathering ever.