Part of my job as a consultant is to recognize areas of opportunity and make recommendations for strengthening a program. One of the chronic mistakes I spot quite often is the excessive use of administrative hours during a calling shift. To be clear, there are five categories of hours I typically log in a phonathon room for students: Calling, Training, System Downtime, Supervising, and Administrative. We could go further with that breakdown, but those are the five main sets of hours that my students will fall under within my budget. This blog will focus on the last one and offers some tips for improving your productivity and efficiency.
There are countless things that need to be done to make a phonathon operate at peak performance. After all, you are running a small business- and businesses need to keep track of their employees pay, schedules, etc. In a phonathon room, you also have pledge cards that need to be proofed, stuffed, and sent. In addition, you may need to run reports for your boss or advancement services staff, create motivational contests and posters for the callers, file coaching forms or other performance-related documents, or even organize shelves and other areas around the phonathon room. This work needs to be done to make the program function- but it shouldn’t be done during calling, and I’ll tell you why.
The main purpose of a phonathon is to raise money and bring on donors. The best way to raise money is to make superior calls and use goal-oriented teamwork to motivate the staff. However, when distractions occur that take the focus off those two main areas, a program cannot possibly be as productive as they would otherwise have been. Having student callers or supervisors off the phone working on all those before-mentioned projects is terribly inefficient during a calling shift. I almost always recommend that those things wait until daytime hours when calling is not in session, so that the actual calling shift is about raising money and nothing else.
For example, if I have a 20 station call center, I would want 20 callers in the seats along with 2 supervisors (and me) all focused like a laser beam on achieving that night’s pre-determined performance objectives. I don’t want supervisors working on the computer, streaming Pandora or other internet music (always a bad idea to play music during calling, but I’ll save that for another blog), drawing posters, filing timecards, figuring out attendance or schedules, organizing boxes, stuffing pledge cards, or anything else that is not directly related to coaching callers for increased productivity. That is a recipe for distracting your staff and taking your collective eyes off the goal.
Another indirect repercussion of admin hours during calling is caller jealousy. When 20 callers are working their tails off making calls and trying to raise money, they don’t particularly want to see one of their co-workers off the phone drawing posters or filing papers. They may not say anything to the supervisors, but they are definitely thinking that some of their peers have it easier than they do. That type of negative feeling can permeate the calling floor and create a bad vibe that is difficult to overcome- all while you’re trying to motivate them for increased performance. Do you see the contradiction there? Some of the employees are working on raising money and others get the “easy tasks”. Even if that is not entirely true, perception is reality to your staff.
Finally, there is a budget related issue. Sometimes the manager cannot perform all the functions needed to adequately run a calling program and they need to bring in a student to help. Most programs build some amount of admin time into their budgets, so it’s completely normal to have students assist with routine tasks. However, this can often get quickly out of control to the point where students begin to expect a certain number of “hours” on their paychecks. Before long, the admin hours build up and their calling hours decrease, making them a de facto office manager. Worse yet, the budget takes a hit because tasks that a manager would normally perform as part of their salaried pay are now being done by an hourly employee. Again, most every program uses student callers in some capacity for administrative tasks. Just be careful to stay within the limits of what your budget shows at the beginning of the fiscal year. Any extra hours of administrative time you spend can take away from calling hours you may need down the road. This is especially important to remember given that we’re in a challenging period of lower contact rates- meaning that it takes more labor hours to complete the same amount of work compared to 5 or 10 years ago.
The bottom line is that administrative tasks should never be used during calling. There are too many callers to coach and too many goals to achieve for the staff to be focused on other duties. Managers and their student supervisors should be working with callers to increase performance, avoiding perception that there is something more important to do than raising money.