The Development Department of Columbus Symphony Orchestra recently held a Phone-a-Thon in the symphony offices. Musicians, staff and board members were invited to volunteer to sign up for evening or weekend time slots during which they telephoned symphony supporters to thank them, to chat about symphony news, and to see if they'd like to renew their most recent gift to the orchestra.
In the past, the Columbus Symphony hired telemarketing companies to do this work. Professional telemarketers who did not live in Columbus and had no interest in or knowledge of the symphony made the calls. Those professional telemarketers were disappointing in their lack of knowledge of the symphony - I know because I was twice the recipient of their calls, and I put them to the test!
Back then, the symphony sponsored occasional volunteer telemarketing campaigns in which musicians participated, but those campaigns were disorganized and frustrating. And since the past telephone campaigns took place in addition to the regular professional telemarketing, the phone calls were NOT well-received! There were many angry people on the other end of the phone line back then - people who were upset that the symphony had not acknowledged their latest donation, or frustrated that symphony telemarketers kept calling even after being asked to stop. I vividly recall bursting into tears after my very first phone call to a symphony donor....
Fortunately, our management was recently restructured, and many positive changes were made. This time, each symphony supporter who answered the phone seemed glad to speak with us. Not one of the donors had a complaint about symphony management mistakes. No one mentioned a gift unacknowledged or a call being made following a request to stop. Not one audience member had a problem with tickets or subscriptions to report. The records the volunteers were given to use for our phone calls were extremely orderly and proved to be accurately updated, which made things a lot easier for those of us placing the calls.
As expected, a number of donors on my calling list didn't answer the phone, so I ended up leaving a lot of voice mail messages. (Even a mere voice message offers a bit of connection, though!) Each time a person did pick up the phone, I had the opportunity to introduce myself (a surprising number of them said that they watch me during concerts) and discuss the orchestra. Many symphony fans expressed huge relief that things had taken a turn for the better. Lots of them wanted to rave about our new Music Director, Jean-Marie Zeitouni. And several of the people I called made sizable donations. It was like winning the lottery to have donors offer to give me their credit card numbers for recurring monthly gifts to the symphony!
Following the Phone-a-Thon I received a hand-written thank-you (on quality stationery!) from Lucy Godman, the Columbus Symphony's Development Director, as further evidence that things are really being handled properly.
I have written posts about the importance of musicians connecting with the audience. Participating in a Phone-a-Thon is a great way to do it! As I keep saying, the days are gone when all a musician had to do was to show up for rehearsals and concerts to play the notes on the page. Audiences and donors now must be enticed through various types of connections. Furthermore, many symphony board and staff members volunteered for our recent Phone-a-Thon, providing an extremely valuable opportunity for mingling with the musicians - another important type of connection which helps to ensure the orchestra's future.