We live in a convenient world. When we are hungry for a cake, we may simply go down to the market and buy the cake of our choice. We do this without thinking twice about the various ingredients that went into making that cake. The wise baker understands that the quality of the cake you are eating has everything to do with the quality of the ingredients it’s made with. If you want to make a better cake, get better ingredients.

Phonathon is essentially no different than the cake example I just shared. I’ve said many times that total dollars is simply the result of many statistical factors working together- that it’s not a stand-alone statistic and should not be viewed as *directly* controllable by management. If phonathon managers want to affect total dollars, they must first affect the *Five Statistical Factors* that work together to achieve that final number. It’s a mistake to think that you can improve total dollar results without including strategy for impacting ALL of these components. Let’s go through the five components one by one…

*Record Counts*

The quantity of records you have in your database or segment is the first component of total dollars. Simply put, the more records you have, the more chances you have for raising money…all other variables remaining fixed. This is why it’s so important to stress to callers that prospects not be arbitrarily taken off the calling lists for every minor grievance or negative response. And this is why Advancement Services and the data staff are so important to phonathon. The quantity of records is the first number that must be considered in any statistical formula that purports to calculate total dollars. Knowing this number up front when setting goals is very important. Even if it changes slightly due to records being added or deleted, you need to have a definitive understanding of how many prospects are in your segments or groups. Otherwise, it’s a slow and painful death by approximation.

*Completion Percentage*

Database completion, or lack thereof, is the number one reason phonathon programs today miss their goal. Leaving records uncalled is the unforgivable sin in phonathon…made much worse because this is largely a self-inflicted wound. Proper planning can help alleviate this issue by making sure you build enough time into the calling calendar to get all the work done. Best practices in the industry take all donor records to 75% complete…in other words you get a terminating response of some sort (where you can’t call the prospect back) for 75% of the total records you load (or cards you print). Most of the time this will be in the form of a solicitation (contact) but sometimes it will be a disconnected or wrong number, somebody who has already pledged, or another non-contact completed call. The bottom line here- f you want to raise more money in your program, first make sure you have called and completed as many records as possible.

*Contact Percentage*

Contact percentage is considered a general measurement of data quality…but not a pure measurement. Remember those wrong numbers mentioned in the above category of completion percentage? They essentially count against you in phonathon…making it harder to raise money because you cannot achieve a solicitation. Wrong numbers negatively affect contact percentage, which in turn hurts your ability to raise money. Contact percentage is technically the ratio between completes (all terminating responses) and contacts (those calls that result in a solicitation). Since the vast majority of non-contact completes are wrong telephone numbers, contact percentage is a good way to measure how clean your segment or database is. A good contact percentage is 75% or higher for an overall database, but it can fluctuate greatly depending on who you are calling. The higher the contact percentage, the more chances you have to raise money. Lybunts will be much higher…upwards of 85% or more. Nondonors (often made up of significant numbers of recent grads) can be as low as 25%-35%...but often settles around 50-60%. The bottom line here is that you cannot raise money from a wrong number, so if your contact percentage is lower than average (60-85%) then database research may be in order.

*Participation*

Participation is the statistic that most managers will point to as the primary reason their numbers are up or down. Yet, it’s important to remember that participation is just one of five key statistics to look at when understanding how you arrived at your total dollar figure. Participation has its roots in caller negotiation ability, training, coaching, scripting, and even in the hiring/interview process of running phonathon. In reality, the ability of a student caller to convince a prospect to give a gift is the result of many quality-oriented phonathon processes working together. While record counts and contact percentage may be *somewhat* out of the control of the manager, participation is very much in the realm of control. You can use those above-mentioned areas to positively or negatively affect the participation results for a given segment or program. To calculate participation, just take the total number of pledges and divide that figure by the total number of contacts (solicitations) that a caller makes. In other words, add pledges, refusals, and unspecified pledges together to arrive at the total contacts number and divide that just by the pledges. 65 pledges out of 100 contacts is 65% participation. It’s as simple as that.

*Average Pledge*

I wrote a blog article several months ago entitled “The Forgotten Focus on Average Pledge’. In that article I described how US News and World Report has dominated the conversation in annual giving and phonathon the past dozen or so years. Being one of the five statistics needed to arrive at total dollars, average pledge probably doesn’t get its due in terms of how important it is to the overall number. Just like with participation, average pledge can be influenced through better caller techniques and management strategy. True, the type of institution and past giving history do play a part…but proper ask amounts, upgrade techniques, and negotiation skills can make or break a program just by raising the average pledge significantly. Teaching the callers not to be afraid of asking large gifts is a challenge in itself. But if they can master the art of negotiating with confidence, your program stands a much better chance of hitting the goal for the year.

*Finding Total Dollars Through Calculation*

Records x Completion Percentage x Contact Percentage x Participation x Average Pledge…that’s the formula. Whether you’re setting a goal or trying to determine which area you can positively affect to improve performance, this is the numerical calculation you will need to understand to accomplish your objective. For example:

1000 records x 75% completion percentage = 750 completes

750 completes x 75% contact percentage= 563 contacts

563 contacts x 60% participation=338 pledges

338 pledges x $75 average pledge= **$25,350** total dollars

Starting with 1,000 records and applying statistical results from the other four areas, we can arrive at a total dollar amount of $25,350. Change any one of the statistical inputs and you change the total dollar result. The bottom line one the *Five Statistical* *Factors* is this…If you understand the process and know how to arrive at the total dollar figure, it’s a major advantage when performing statistical analysis before and after the calling shift. Master this formula and the strategies you employ as a manager will lead to better results!

As always, your comments are welcome.

Extremely helpful post, but I'm a little confused ... You write: "To calculate participation, just take the total number of pledges and divide that figure by the total number of contacts (solicitations) that a caller makes. In other words, add pledges, refusals, and unspecified pledges together to arrive at the total contacts number and divide that just by the pledges." The second sentence seems to contradict the first - it's dividing in the opposite direction, is it not? But I'm not sure!

Posted by: Kevin MacDonell | May 17, 2010 at 08:18 AM

I've worked at a number of small, manual phonathon institutions and there seems to be a disconnect between how we calculate contact percent and how automated organizations do it. Everywhere I've worked, we've used the calculation of number of terminated calls (one that is a yes, no, maybe) divided by total number of dials. We were alarmed by how low our contact percent was compared to some institutions until we realized how different our calculations actually were. To me, the contact percent calculated above is more of a "participation" rate for the phonathon. Any thoughts?

Posted by: Rikki Starich | July 12, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Contact percentage, as a best-practice, is calculated as Total Contacts divided by Total Completed Calls. It is a measure of how many completed calls actually result in a solicitation (a.k.a. a contact). Schools often use contact percentage as a measurement of data quality since the non-contact completes are likely bad telephone numbers (disconnects, wrong numbers, for example.) In addition, "other" completed calls also include those prospects whom you cannot solicit but for whom you get a result that does not allow you to call back into that household during this campaign (Already Pledged, Do Not Call, Remove from List, Deceased, etc.)

The number of dials (attempts) is used to help understand time management...but is not a primary indicator when looking at a precise view of statistical performance. Often, contact percentage is confused with contact RATE...which is Total Attempts (dials) divided by Total Contacts. This is what you describe in your comment.

A contact is defined as a Specified Pledge, Unspecified Pledge, or No Pledge (refusal). These are the total number of solicitations made and the only three result codes that should be considered a contact. Therefore, participation is calculated as Total Pledges divided by Total Contacts...giving you an indication of how many successful solicitations your callers have made out of the total number of solicitations made- reflected in a percentage. Taking total pledges divided by total dials (attempts) is, in my opinion, a diluted way to look at your caller's effectiveness inside the negotiation process.

Hopefully that helps clear it up!

Posted by: Jason Fisher | July 15, 2010 at 10:56 AM

I think I understand where the confusion is coming from. When Jason says "In other words, add pledges, refusals, and unspecified pledges together to arrive at the total contacts number and divide that just by the pledges" you really mean it the other way around: participation is determined by dividing the total number of pledges by the total number of pledges, refusals and unspecifieds. The numerator and denominator were accidentally reversed there; otherwise you would be getting participation over 100%.

Similarly, when you mention contact rate above you describe it as total attempts divided by total contacts (again a number greater than 1) when Rikki describes the opposite (total contacts divided by total attempts). I don't typically use that metric but if it's supposed to result in the percentage of attempts that results in a contact then Rikki's version is correct.

Hopefully that clears things up but let me know if I'm mistaken.

Posted by: Brandon Santos | July 16, 2010 at 11:25 AM