Ring of Fire
When Kwi Brennan came to New Jersey’s Rutgers University in 1996, volunteers culled from the alumni and student body were raising about $2 million a year through telemarketing. Not bad, but not exactly blazing either.
Then Brennan, the senior director of annual giving, and his supervisor, Victoria Wilt, turned up the heat. Telemarketing revenues jumped up to $2.5 million in 1997, $2.9 million in 1998, $3.1 million in 1999, $3.7 million in 2000, $4.2 million in 2001, $5 million in 2002 and $5.1 million in 2003.
According to Brennan, Rutgers is the first university to break the $5 million mark in pledges and is the highest pledge-dollar program in the country by about $1.3 million.
So what happened?
Brennan instituted a year-round calling program (as opposed to the traditional September-December and February-May schedule), did away with the volunteer callers and, basically, stopped telemarketing altogether.
OK, not really. He and Wilt turned the volunteer-based program into a paid student-caller program. They also partnered with Advantage Fundraising Consulting and implemented new fundraising strategies that took the burden of the ask off of the callers.
“Their job is twofold: They’re first goodwill ambassadors for the university and then fundraisers,” Brennan explains. “But they’re not telemarketers, because they are not selling anything. They’re providing an opportunity for our prospects to invest in Rutgers and its students.”
Advantage President Anthony Alonso recommended that Rutgers preface every phone call with a letter explaining to potential donors what and why they should give. It also tells them not only to expect a phone call, but when — usually about a week later.
Though he knows it’s a good idea now, Brennan wasn’t thrilled with the pre-call letter notion early on.
“When I heard about the pre-call letter, I didn’t buy into it right away,” he admits. “But Vicky said, ‘We’re doing it,’ so we did it and it worked amazingly well. In the first year (1996-97), the average gift increased 43 percent, and there was a 20 percent increase in giving.”