What skills or traits do you look for in your caller interviews? Personally, I like callers with a small chip on their shoulder; who take failure just a little bit to heart and who want to come back on their next call and get a pledge. I want to look over at their calling station after they get a refusal and see traces of frustration- not because they believe they can never get a gift, but because they feel they could have done more on that last call to get the prospect to say yes. These are characteristics of a competitive caller, and I like my phone room to be full of them.
Fundraising is an active profession, not a passive one. It takes students who are sincere and passionate about what they do to be successful. Callers who don’t much care whether they get the gift or not, or who are just happy to move onto the next call without thinking about what they could have done better really shouldn’t have a place in your program. While not everyone you hire will be of a competitive nature, it is important to have a critical mass of these personalities to keep the energy of the calling floor at high levels so that nobody gets too comfortable with being told no.
So who makes a competitive caller and how do you find them? Well, there is no single test you can implement to decide if this person is competitive. But look at their application and resume for clues. Previous sports activities may or may not show the type of competitiveness you seek. Being involved in a ton of activities may just distract your applicant from focusing on their job and cause them to call out more often. Leadership is important, mainly because leaders don’t want to fail in front of everyone. Their pride and reputation is at stake, and they want to make sure they always come out on top- so certainly look for that.
While there is no single trait that universally signals that your applicant is competitive, I look for previous success at multiple activities. Grade point average, for example, isn’t just a sign of intelligence to me. It may also be an indicator of somebody that works hard and is dedicated to doing the best they can. Do those traits sound familiar? Also look for previous jobs where they received a promotion. While the exact nature of the job may be different that what we do in fundraising, the ability to be promoted showed some drive on their part. And finally (and most importantly), just ask them questions that bring out their personality. Try to get to know them as an applicant during the interview, as much as that is possible in 15 minutes. Chances are they will reveal things about themselves that can help you decide whether they have the traits you are looking for in a caller. The answers to the questions you ask aren’t as important as the personality they display in front you of. The eyeball test helps determine how aggressive and assertive you think they will be- two components of a good fundraising caller.
Competitive callers may be able to motivate themselves from call to call, but management should still focus on ways to emphasize their spirit and drive during the phonathon shift. Friendly competition between rival callers or teams makes for an interesting and fun calling shift. Games and contests should be designed based on goals, and goals should be set based on actual statistical performance from prior results. The best way to keep your callers motivated is to make their goals realistic and achievable, but not too easy to hit. Challenge your callers to do more every time they step in your center. Set your goals at the individual level as well as the team. The competitive callers will take this challenge and find ways to achieve the objectives.
The bottom line on competitive callers is that not everybody you hire will be one, but having them in your call center helps challenge the status quo and push forward past mediocrity. Raising the bar and exceeding expectations sometimes happens by chance, but most of the time it happens by choice. Find the callers who refuse to fail or who accept difficult assignments- including calling nondonors. While having a roomful of competitive callers is unlikely, having one for every three or four callers on staff helps management motivate the staff and convince students that success is possible and likely. Every phonathon needs trendsetters- and competition in the call center makes the job more fun, interesting, and productive.