Call Center Technology Boosts Donations for Indiana University

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A move to install automated call center technology, which includes a predictive dialer and compatibility with the existing database, has allowed the Indiana University Foundation Telefund program to raise an extra $1 million a year with half the staff it previously employed.


Telefund, an outbound call center component of the foundation, previously raised $2.75 million in its best year, through 125,000 calls made by 120 callers at 60 to 65 stations. In the last fiscal year ended June 30, the foundation's first year with the Centenium system from EIS, Herndon, VA, $3.83 million was raised through 180,000 calls. With the new system, calls were made by just 60 callers at 32 stations, allowing the foundation to be more selective in its hiring criteria, said Jeff Lindauer, director of annual giving and regional campus services for the foundation.


"Before it was all manual, we had 120 callers who were each presented with a list of donors to call and called by hand," Lindauer said.


Although one concern was user-friendliness, Lindauer found that his student callers at Telefund, which operates out of the university's Bloomington, IN, campus, easily adopted the point-and-click commands and functions.


"The bulk of our training has to do with completing a solid fundraising call and being a friend-raiser as much as a fund-raiser," he said. "The technical part of the training only takes about 20 to 30 minutes."


Callers also began to learn how to access data that was not available to them with the manual system - data such as what clubs alumni had been members of and what events they had participated in.


"It took a while for people to learn because we hadn't had that before, but it helps for that phone call if a caller can say 'You participated in this event' and start a conversation around something," Lindauer said. "It's our job to inform people about what is happening on campus."


Cultivating prospects through conversation is important in university fundraising both because of the nostalgia prospects hold toward the university and because the prospect base is finite. As a result, the foundation aims for calls that last five or six minutes.


With EIS's Centenium, the caller's screens also include screen pops that offer 15 different scripts to use if someone refuses to donate.


"We made a list of the most common reasons not to donate -- they are still paying off student loans, they just had a child, they just bought a new home -- and the caller can click on that response to go to a script that may elicit a better response," Lindauer said.


While the foundation had created scripts for donation declines before, they were listed on pages in binders that callers had to turn to.


Screen pops also prompt callers to update and verify information as they proceed through a call, a feature that has been particularly helpful for the foundation, which finds that more than 30 percent of its prospects move each year, said Lindauer.


With the new technology, Telefund is finding it can also run several campaigns at once, something that was more complicated and difficult to do before automation.


"Previously, if we had a large campaign, it might take our callers two to three months to get through the list," Lindauer said.


A concern with adding more complex technology was maintenance and reliability, as the center would not have an MIS professional dedicated to maintaining its system. However, the management team found loading and managing campaigns to be easy and experienced negligible down time.


In addition to facilitating the calling process, automation made follow up easier. In past years, when donations were pledged, a confirmation letter was hand-typed by the foundation's staff. Cententium, in cooperation with Microsoft Access, now automatically generates a pledge confirmation letter the day after the pledge was made, significantly cutting down the time that follow up letters are mailed.


"We make all our calls at night, so if a donation was pledged last night, the letter will go out today," Lindauer said.
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