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October 25, 2012 4:05 PM The Problem with the Call Center

By Daniel Luzer

You know those calls that come from colleges often? The ones where perky undergraduates call to ask if you’d like to contribute $5 to the annual fund? It turns out there’s reason to think these tactics aren’t working so well anymore.

According to an article by Rachel Getzenberg in The Hatchet, the George Washington University student newspaper:

As caller-IDs become the norm and more people ditch landlines for cell phones, the fundraising game is getting tougher for the University’s student-run call center.
Student staff at Colonial Connection sit in cubicles for 20 hours a week, cold calling parents and alumni to solicit donations. But over the last fiscal year, the call center has raised $500,000 - a 30 percent dip from the year before, while online donations increased 50 percent, reaching nearly $1 million for fiscal year 2012.

While many people still have landlines the new telephone systems make it essentially impossible to reach recent alumni, who are simply less likely to pick up the phone if they know GW is calling.

And there’s reason to believe GW’s situation is typical. Trends are down at all organizations, according to the article, because institutions that raise money through donations just aren’t bringing in as much cash through telephone calls.

Now, granted, it’s worth point out that call centers aren’t really a major source of college funding. GW’s call center only generates about 5 percent of annual donations. Most funds come from one-time large gifts form a few very wealthy benefactors that colleges court directly. The average lawyer or doctor giving $60 a year to his alma mater doesn’t matter much at all for college finances.

That being said, the telephone call is the best way to reach a new donor. It’s that first donation from a recent graduate that can be the beginning of a many years of contributions. But if the college never makes that first connection, it’s hard to develop a pattern of giving later on.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer