Phone Logic

Students from one of my alma mater’s keeps calling.   It one I’ve supported lo, these many years since I graduated, but this year, the phoning is making it difficult.  The students are as perky as ever, but whoever trained them should be shot. For starters, few can get my name right.  Not my last name, which I could understand—LeVEEN, LeVINE, what?  But Janet?

And then there is their technique, or lack of same.

After they mangle my first name, tell me they are a student at the University, they ask me how I am doing.

OK, I know there are some out there who think that phonathon callers should start by ensuring this is a “good time” for the call.  Nonsense.  Of course it’s not a good time—you are going to ask me for money.  Even if I am going to give it to you, something inside most of us resists the idea of being asked.

So they ask me how I’m doing and I tell them, truthfully, that I am busy.  And then they do the craziest thing.  They say, “Oh, sorry.  I’ll call back another time.”  And then they hang up.

The first time it happened I was surprised.  The second, curious.  The third, flummoxed.  And so, each time they call—and I have been called 10 times since the middle of January—I say the same thing.  And they respond in kind.

Let’s go back to basics here.  When you call, at best you have seven seconds to get and keep someone’s attention.  So unless you are calling a friend, why on earth would you waste precious time asking a pro forma question? Remember the lawyer’s dictum—never ask a question if you don’t already know the   answer?  It holds here as well.

Phone solicitation rule #1:  Remember the purpose of your call—and get to it ASAP. You are not calling your prospects, donors, alumni, because you want to know how they are.  You are calling because you want them to (continue to) supporting you.  Say that, up front.  That way, instead of the prospect giving you a generic “I’m busy,” he or she will make some concrete objection.  And you can respond appropriately to that.

Even if the objection is “Now is not a good time, I’m busy,” you have an opportunity to say, “I’m sorry, I’ll be short.  Can we count on your continued support?”  And then, depending on the response, you have something to work with.

If the baby really is about to fall out of the crib, or the person really is busy, fine.  You may have to put them on the call again list.  But be realistic; a person who is too busy to talk ten times over a period of weeks is not a prospect.  At least not for this phonathon.  If someone at my University would take me off the call list and send me a letter saying, “Sorry we haven’t been able to speak,” and make the ask in black and white, they would already have my check.  Persistence, yes.  Dogged beating your head against the wall, no.

But wait, a client about to launch their annual campaign asks, “Don’t I have to give the value proposition first?”

Ummm, No.  The value proposition is that one tidbit that tells the prospect why giving to this organization is such a good deal.  When you are dialing for dollars, the person on the other end of the line will stop listening long before you tell you why they should give unless they are interested in hearing why.  To be interested, they have to be considering making a gift.  And to do that—yep—they have to have been asked.

So ask.  “I’m calling in the hope that you will continue to support us,” or “…make a first gift to our organization.”

Unless the answer is a yes with a specific amount they will give, you now will have an opening to make your case, often for a larger gift than they gave last time.  You will be engaging in a conversation that could lead to support.  Worst-case scenario you’ll know why the answer is no—for now.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to build their resource development capacity (and yes, that does include grants!).  To learn more about her, her grantwriting class and Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants the only grantwriting book you really need, check out  You can buy the book directly at