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Is it an "Engagement Center" or Just Another Phonathon?

We see many institutions reinvent their traditional phonathon under the banner of an “engagement center.” Each contains a few different wrinkles, but the essential activities are often the same – hire a few dozen students to call large quantities of relatively cold, unsuspecting prospects.

Adding text messaging helps, but it is still phone-based cold outreach. Email with 1:1 video is a step forward, but stripped down its core elements, are these “modern” engagement centers really all that different from the traditional phonathon?

Perhaps the better question is, do they produce better results than the calling-only phonathons of the past 30 years?

At, we view the engagement center a bit differently. Yes, there is still 1:1 outreach using phone, text, email, and video (and in most cases, social media as well), but it’s what happens in between that outreach that matters most.

In our view, investing in outreach is as important as ever, but in order to succeed, modern engagement center should focus on, well, engagement. Contacting 25,000 cold prospects with voice, text, and email is not a whole lot different than the phonathons of yesteryear.

The magic of a true engagement center is the warming that takes place between the direct touch points.

And the best way to warm audiences is with video. We’ve seen it play out in case study after case study – audiences targeted with authentic student produced video before an ask perform anywhere from 25 to 300 percent better than the same campaigns the year prior.

For example, look at what happened to email engagement at the University of Texas Austin when authentic, student-produced content was added to email outreach for a summer 2023 annual giving campaign.

As the graphic above shows, the first four UT Austin gift catalog emails did not contain authentic student video and experienced a 0.08 percent average click through rate. Starting with the fifth email, authentic student video was added. The results? An average click through rate of 1.6 percent for the remaining emails.

For many in leadership, however, engagement alone is not the true measure of success. Fundraising metrics – donors and dollars – reign supreme. The good news, as we have seen in our case studies, is that authentic video engagement quickly improves the bottom line, bringing in more dollars and more donors.

Now imagine if we pivot this authentic student video toward leadership annual or major donor audiences? Look for a blog post on “breaking the engagement center out of the annual fund” coming soon where we’ll explore how authentic video can elevate every giving level.

What do you think? Are modern engagement centers really all that different from the old phone programs? Do you have an engagement center that is actually focused on engagement that drives results? Click here and schedule a time to discuss!


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