How to Run Successful Phone-A-Thons [+ Sample Script]

Although it might seem old-fashioned, a phone-a-thon or phonathon is a well-vetted practice for organizations looking to connect with donors. There’s a reason it has stuck around for so long! In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of this classic fundraising technique. We’ll also provide 7 steps to planning and running your own…

8 minutes read
How to Run Successful Phone-A-Thons [+ Sample Script]

phone a thon

Although it might seem old-fashioned, a phone-a-thon or phonathon is a well-vetted practice for organizations looking to connect with donors. There’s a reason it has stuck around for so long!

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of this classic fundraising technique. We’ll also provide 7 steps to planning and running your own successful phonathon and give you a sample script to customize. As a bonus, we’ll throw in some tips to help prepare your callers for anything they might encounter.

  1. What is a Phonathon or Phone-A-Thon?
  2. How Effective are Phonathons for Nonprofit Fundraising?
  3. 7 Steps to Planning and Conducting a Successful Phone-A-Thon
  4. A Sample Phonathon Script
  5. 4 Tips to Prepare Callers for Queries and Objections

Let’s first establish a phonathon definition.

What is a Phonathon or Phone-A-Thon?

A phone-a-thon or phonathon is the act of calling multiple people on a list to fundraise. Typically, phone-a-thons are events with volunteers making the calls together, but they can also be virtual or separate.

While most often used for fundraising, phone-a-thons can also be effective ways to spread information, campaign for political candidates, and thank donors.

How Effective are Phonathons for Nonprofit Fundraising?

If done right, a phonathon can be an effective fundraising tool. However, there are some important pros and cons to consider.


1. Inexpensive

It doesn’t cost much to make phone calls, especially if you’re working with volunteers who plan to use their own phones.

2. Easy to organize

All you need is a group of people to make calls, a script, and a list of donors and their phone numbers. In addition, you’d also need a donor database that makes it easy (and secure) to store and manage donor information.

When you fundraise with Donorbox, your donor’s personal information gets stored in the Donorbox database. You can access and segment this donor data by a variety of filters so you get just the list you need for your phone-a-thon. It is also simple to navigate the donor profile on Donorbox and find out information about the donor to be able to customize the phone script.

segmenting donors on donorbox

Donorbox Donor Management - Learn More!

3. A good way to connect with older donors

The older generations are more welcoming of cold-calling – and more likely to appreciate the effort. The right script that is personalized to include how their donations made an impact in the past would make it easier to connect with them.

4. A thoughtful donor appreciation practice

A phone-a-thon can also be a great opportunity to reach out with your heartfelt thanks. This is a great practice for developing donor relationships.


1. Not effective with younger generations

Some nonprofits avoid hosting phone-a-thons simply because they aren’t as successful as other kinds of fundraisers. Time has changed, and the younger generations aren’t comfortable with taking random phone calls for donations anymore. This often turns them off and results in a bad reputation for the organization.

2. Difficult to convince donors

It is a fact that very few people are willing to answer cold calls. And those who do may not pay much attention. It becomes more difficult to share stories and explain the organization’s mission and the impact to such donors.

This is where personalizing the script becomes more important. When the phone call starts by addressing the donor by their name, they’d feel compelled and often motivated to listen.

7 Steps to Planning and Conducting a Successful Phone-A-Thon

1. Establish your campaign and set your goal

You’ll want to have a clear idea of what you’re asking for during your phone-a-thon.

To figure out your goal, start with a conservative guess of how much money you think your phonathon might reasonably bring in. Do you think 20 people will give $20 each? Or $100 each?

Once you have this conservative assessment, increase it by 20%. It’s important that your goal remain attainable, but it should also encourage your participants to keep going!

Build your campaign on Donorbox to help you nail down your fundraising goals. Creating a campaign on Donorbox is quick and easy. First, you’ll decide what kind of campaign you’d like to create – a donation form, a fundraising, or a crowdfunding page (recommended for phonathons).

Then you can customize your campaign as much as you’d like and add pictures, videos, and fundraising stories to your page. This donation page makes it easy for your callers to share a way with the donors to donate.

Donorbox cares for your donors’ convenience – and that’s why our donation forms are equipped with digital wallet payment options which make giving super fast. Here’s what Donorbox UltraSwift™ Pay brings to you – and for more information, check out this detailed article.

donating with digital walletsGet Started with Donorbox

2. Write a script

Having a prepared, standardized fundraising script for your callers does two things:

  1. It ensures that your message is the same for every caller.
  2. It takes the pressure off your callers to get it right – especially if they’re volunteers!

You’ll want your script to sound natural but informative. The most effective scripts will also include a fundraising story – for example, a story about how your organization has helped someone.

We’ll provide an example script later in this article so it’s super easy to plug in your information and start calling!

3. Choose the right time

Think about when the majority of your donors will be home. Does it make sense to call during the day? Or would the early evening be a better time? This will help you schedule your callers.

4. Find and prep your callers

Now that you know when you plan on making calls, you can figure out who should serve as your callers. These can be staff members, leadership, and/or volunteers.

Pull from your regular pool of volunteers because they know your organization best. But don’t be afraid to train and prepare new volunteers, too!

Pro tip: It’s vital that you have at least one or two staff members present to help if any questions come up. Check out our 4 tips to prepare your callers section later in this article!

5. Pull donor lists

It’s important to be sure you have your call lists ready to go before the day of your phone-a-thon. Consider creating lists of lapsed donors, current donors, major donors, and donors who have made matching gifts in the past.

Also, make sure to do prospect research well in advance and create a list of potential donors that would be interested in your organization and its mission. We have written an article to get you started with prospect research, what tools to use, how to go about it, and more.

How Donorbox helps

You can create lists of donors based on a variety of filters at any time using Donorbox’s donor management tools. Simply apply the filters you wish and then export the list. You can even customize the columns for your CSV export so you get only the data you need for callers.

phone a thon

You can also easily create customized reports to get exactly what you need for your phonathon. There you’ll have 3 basic options to choose from before customizing your parameters – New Donors, Donor Overview, and LYBUNT (Last Year But Not This Year).

creating donor reports on donorbox

Create Donor Reports - Sign Up!

Pro tip: Whatever method you use to pull your donor lists, just make sure any sensitive information is hidden from volunteers.

6. Have an easy way to collect donations

This is where having a Donorbox campaign set up comes in handy.

Your callers should absolutely collect donations right there on the phone, so donors don’t have a chance to forget to go back later to make their donation.

The best, quickest way to do that is for your callers to share your Donorbox campaign link with the donor during the call. They can quickly open the link and give using a digital wallet or card, or bank transfer. They will also receive a donation receipt right away.

Even better – your caller can ask the donor to save their information by checking a checkbox on the donation form, which will help them log in to their donor account later to repeat the donation. They won’t have to fill out the form again. This is applicable to your one-time donors and is useful to empower them to donate again in the future. Learn more about this QuickDonate ™ feature of Donorbox in this short video here –

Donorbox QuickDonate ™ - Learn More!

7. Track communication with donor management

It’s important to keep track of all donor communication so you know exactly how often you’ve reached out to a donor.

The best way to do that is to have your callers keep track of their calls throughout the day. They should note down when they leave a voicemail, speak to someone without a donation, and speak to someone with a donation.

After your phone-a-thon, you can add these communication notes to your donor profiles on Donorbox. Simply select “phone” as the channel and “outbound” as the direction. adding communication notes to donor profiles on donorbox - phone a thon

A Sample Phonathon Script


Hi [Donor Name]! My name is [Caller Name] and I’m a [Volunteer/Staff Member/Other] calling on behalf of [Organization Name].

I first want to thank you for your support of our mission. Thanks to your past donations, we’ve been able to [describe impact]. Without your support, we never would have been able to [brief fundraising story about someone you helped or something your organization recently did].

Description of the new campaign

We’re hoping you’ll consider supporting us in our newest endeavor. We need to raise funds to support our [New Initiative] because of [Urgent Reason]. [Describe what makes this initiative exciting or important.]

Make the ask

[Donor Name], we’re hoping you will consider making a gift today to support this important work. Many supporters have committed to a monthly gift at [amount] to keep our mission going. Can you help out with a one-time or monthly gift? [Share the link to the campaign or donation form]

[If they make a gift, instruct your callers on the protocol for collecting their information]

Express your gratitude for the donation

Thank you so much for your continued support, [Donor Name]. We’re lucky to have such generous donors.

Express your gratitude for their time (no donation)

Thank you so much for taking my call, [Donor Name]. I hope you’ll consider looking into our campaign online. You can find it [describe how to find it on your website or on Donorbox].

4 Tips to Prepare Callers for Queries and Objections

1. Provide them with the script in advance

Give them ample time to review and practice so they won’t be nervous on the day of the phone-a-thon. Allow them to personalize the script to something they’re comfortable with. You ultimately want the call to feel natural, so the script should reflect how they would naturally speak.

2. Run mock calls with them

This way, they get to practice and you get the opportunity to foresee any issues before the day of the phone-a-thon.

With your staff, brainstorm some possible routes the conversation could take. Practice these with your callers so they know how to respond!

Also, keep in mind that some people might be unhappy at receiving a phone call. Practice tactics with your callers to help them interact with potentially unhappy people – even if that means just thanking them for their time and hanging up. You don’t want to annoy someone!

3. Provide them with a fundraising kit

This kit should include basic information about your organization and specific messaging about this campaign. They can review this on their own time and keep it handy when they make their calls.

This fundraising toolkit will also be handy to have on hand as your campaign progresses. Hence, it makes sense to share it with all your volunteers and staff members, so they can refer to it whenever needed.

4. Create a Q&A sheet

Anticipate what questions your donors might have about the campaign. Now, make an easy-to-follow Q&A sheet for your callers so they can quickly access the information your donors need. This will relieve stress for your callers – and might result in more donations!


You’ve heard the phrase “an oldy but a goody,” and that definitely applies to this classic fundraising technique. Phonathons might not be as popular as they once were, but they’re nowhere near extinct.

This is because they’re inexpensive, easy to run, and still have a moderately strong chance of success, especially with older generations of donors. They’re great for donor appreciation, too.

If you need to make your phone-a-thon a success, Donorbox has your back! Donorbox has comprehensive fundraising tools that help you attract and retain donors for years to come. You can use our tools to make your phone-a-thon run smoother – and bring in more money for your important work.

Learn about our range of powerful fundraising and donor management tools on the website. Get started today and launch your first campaign in minutes.

Want more fundraising event ideas, tips, donor acquisition and management guides, and more? Go to our Nonprofit Blog. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive the best collection of our resources directly in your inbox.

Lindsey Baker

Lindsey spent years wearing many hats in the nonprofit world. Whether she was helping arts nonprofits with their messaging and content, planning a fundraising gala, writing an NEA grant proposal, or running a membership program with over 400 members, she learned how to navigate – and appreciate! – the fast-paced world of fundraising. Now, she loves sharing those hard-earned lessons with the Donorbox community.

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