Scripting for Acquisition Calls

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A SERIES ON DONOR ACQUISITION FROM JESSICA NENO CLOUDThis is the third in a series on donor acquisition by Jessica Neno Cloud, CFRE, the author of Successful Fundraising Calls: A Phonathon Scripting Workshop. Cloud is the assistant director for fundraising initiatives and planned giving at the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation. She practices evidence-based fundraising with a focus on return on investment, and has a variety of innovative and effective techniques to share.

You may also be interested in the other articles in this series:

A Quick Assessment for Your Phonathon Scripts
How Data Mining Can Increase Direct Mail Acquisition
How Data Mining Can Increase Phonathon Acquisition

To complete this series on acquisition strategies, I want to look at the art of scriptwriting for acquisition (as opposed to the science of data mining). I’ll offer specific tips for:

  • Changing the language you use for scripts dedicated to new donor acquisition
  • Simplifying the script
  • Preparing callers to deal effectively with gatekeepers
  • Writing to the goal, to increase the call’s effectiveness

Use Different Language for Acquisition Scripts

My first rule of thumb for acquisition work is simple: Don’t use the language of “non-donor,” especially with student callers.

Name these segments “future donors” or “yet-to-gives,” and reform your own habits to always use the new, more optimistic name. Psychology and expectation deeply affects fundraisers and we should not be tricking ourselves into believing that these prospects are truly non-donors, as if they will never give.

Simplify the Script

For scripting, I recommend having a separate script just for future donors. This is helpful for a couple of reasons:

  • First, future donor scripts have a very different goal than a donor script, and the writing should reflect this.
  • Second, you can make the script as streamlined and simple as possible for your newbie callers by removing complex things that you might find in a donor script, such as variable ask levels or designations and upgrade asks.

In a dedicated future donor script, you focus in on the essentials and include only one ask ladder. This helps new callers to gain confidence and have early success. The more success new callers have early on, the more of them will stay, reducing your turnover and enriching your staff.

Prepare Callers to Deal with Gatekeepers

Another good tip is to provide callers with language for dealing with gatekeepers. Gatekeepers can be a variety of people, including parents of the graduate, old roommates, spouses who didn’t graduate from your institution or administrative assistants, anyone who you have to go through to get to talk with the prospect or to get their new contact info.

Scripting gatekeeper language and training your callers to do this will help improve your contact rates, once callers master this. Shape your language as if you are helping the gatekeeper out.

For example: “I bet you get these calls all the time for <Name>. If you have his new number handy, I will make sure that your number is removed from our list.”

Understand Your Goal, and Write to It

The most important thing in composing a script for acquisition calls is to understand your goal for your future donor segments and write to that. If you were writing a leadership annual giving script, you wouldn’t put a participation ask in as your first or second ask because your goal is upgrading the donor to a higher level of giving.

The goal for acquisition calls is always participation. That theme should be reiterated in each ask–building the case for giving something back, no matter the amount.

Here is one way to do this:

  • In your transition to the first ask, give an overall picture of why participation is important.
  • Perhaps follow this by a second ask that (a) explains how giving affects rankings and (b) relates that to the long-term value of a degree from your institution.
  • Then, round it out with a strong third ask which reiterates that it is truly the fact that you give not the amount that really matters. This kind of approach on the third ask, coupled with a grad-year-themed ask amount seems to jive with most new donors, particularly young alumni.

Strategically understanding who will be calling your future donors and writing a clear script that accomplishes your goal for those donors is the best way to craft a strong script for acquisition calls.


Get Jessica Neno Cloud’s Book

Successful Fundraising Calls: A Phonathon Scripting Workshop offers you a full scripting workshop and tutorial for successful solicitation calls. Author Jessica Neno Cloud critiques and revises 6 real phonathon scripts submitted by institutions across North America.