By Gregory Hess | From the Spring 2012 issue of Roosevelt Review
On the 11th floor of Roosevelt’s Auditorium Building, 15 students sit at a row of desks, thumbing through multi-colored stacks of call sheets and diligently making phone calls.
The student workers in Roosevelt’s phonathon program call alumni four days a week during the fall and spring academic terms, earning work study credit and making personal connections with more than 60 years of Roosevelt alumni.
Karyn DuBose, Roosevelt’s director of annual giving who has administered the phonathon program since October 2010, previously led annual giving initiatives at other colleges, including the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I always tell the callers, ‘You are the next generation of givers. When you graduate, someone is going to call you. So, it’s important that you understand the culture of philanthropy that you are fostering right now. The people who you’re calling are investing in your success,’” DuBose said.
Monae Ferguson, a co-lead who will graduate with a major in integrated marketing communications in 2013, started with the phonathon in fall of 2009. Ferguson had experience on the phone from a previous job at the Illinois Tollway, answering phone calls from toll booth violators. For her, Roosevelt’s phonathon is a welcome change of pace.
“It’s very refreshing hearing some of the people’s stories about life after Roosevelt,” Ferguson said. “I called a woman one time who ended up being a best-selling author. We had a very inspiring conversation.”
Callers are trained and given scripts to work from, but they learn very quickly that calls can often veer down unexpected paths. “Being a psych minor, I understand people have different personalities and different things going on in their lives, so I try to remember that and take it in stride when a call goes badly,” Ferguson said.
John Lang, a jazz voice major who graduates in May, is another co-lead at the phonathon. Lang said that his performance background has played a role in helping him get comfortable on the phones.
“It is a pretty natural fit,” Lang said. “The personalities of alumni really come out when they pick up the phone. The first time you get on the phone is pretty nerve-wracking. But after the first person you connect with, it’s all gone, and it becomes second nature.”
There’s one thing that you won’t find at the phonathon, however— computers. Unlike most modern call center environments, Roosevelt’s phonathon is still doing things the old-fashioned way, with ink and paper.
“Alumni should know this isn’t some automated system calling them. This is an actual student, flipping through sheets of paper and pressing the keys on the phone. It’s definitely old school, but it works, and there’s a personal aspect to it,” Lang said.
The callers regularly have the chance to connect with alumni in their field, who are often eager to offer career advice and guidance for life after college. “The alumni are constantly giving the callers great professional advice, because they are out there in the workplace, using their education,” DuBose said. “Usually when they give us advice, what they say is, ‘just keep going,’” Ferguson added.
A CALL TO ACTION
If you receive a phone call from a Roosevelt student, Jacob Youngblood may be on the other end of the call. “It’s cool to contact people throughout the country,” he says.
Jacob Youngblood, a junior jazz trombone major who was hired at the phonathon in the fall 2011 semester, said, “It takes effort and focus, but I really enjoy it. It’s cool to contact people throughout the country and make that connection, whether they’re nice or rude to you. On any given night, you might talk to someone in Las Vegas or Maryland or Hawaii.”
Tanisha Littrice, a senior business management major, commutes from Flossmoor, Ill., and uses her pay from the phonathon to help pay for her monthly Metra pass. She enjoys the incentives and games that the supervisors use to keep the mood in the call center fun.
“We play a game called ‘Phonieland,’ where if you get a pledge you get to move a space. It’s fun and encouraging, because every time we come in we want to see how many spaces we need to win,” Littrice said.
Each pledge the students receive is manually entered into the University’s database by DuBose. She even personally hand writes a letter to each donor, sealing and mailing the envelope herself.
The phonathon program represents the first contact many alumni have with annual giving. Though the gifts the callers receive are often small, overall they add up to a significant portion of the University’s fundraising efforts. “Collectively, these gifts mean a lot, and they do great things for the University,” DuBose said.
The students began calling this academic year in October and as of mid-March, they had received pledges totalling $53,717.
“It’s making a huge impact. We’re the people behind the scenes, late at night, getting things done,” Ferguson said proudly.
Karyn DuBose, Roosevelt’s director of Annual Giving, personally hand writes a letter to each donor. She often tells the student callers: “You are the next generation of givers. So, it’s important that you understand the culture of philanthropy that you are fostering right now. The people who you’re calling are investing in your success.”
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