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Volume 1, Issue 10


Students Dial Up Donations

Involving students in phonathons is a great way to generate excitement on campus and drum up community support for an annual fund, says a development officer at a Michigan community college, who adds that most students say they love the work and are happy to help.

Sonia Clem, annual giving officer at Northwestern Michigan College, says she didn't always rely on student volunteerism to run her annual phonathon. She previously recruited volunteers from the surrounding community who made calls from their homes or businesses. Then, a few years ago, she wanted a change to involve more students on her campus.

"We went to the honors society and to those who received scholarships and asked for help," Clem says. "These students typically come from robust on-campus clubs that do volunteer work, and they are very comfortable talking on the phone about [the college] to the community. Then, we created a phonathon call center on campus, where we could control the message better and make it easy and fun for everyone."

Clem says phonathons hosted on campus result in clearer messages to donors and more motivated volunteers. She adds it also provides an opportunity to ensure that all volunteers are trained in a consistent manner.

Students in the institution's calling center are given about 30 minutes of informal training. Some of the tips Clem offers students include:

  • Show college pride
  • Don't be apologetic
  • Limit calls to three to five minutes
  • Don't leave messages on answering machines
  • Allow contact to hang up first

"These skills will help students later in life," Clem says. "They'll have to make cold calls at some point in their professional life. Also, there's the possibility that this experience could give them an interest in a career in advancement."

Ultimately, though, Clem says she thinks it's important to teach students how to give—something that she hopes they'll remember as alumni.

"My reason for bringing students in is so they'll understand what philanthropy is," Clem says. "We're calling regular people—not millionaires—but people like their parents. We want them to see that small gifts can make a big difference."

Nargilya Gasanova, a 20-year-old nursing student at the college who graduates next month, says her phonathon experience has been an eye-opener.

"I wanted to volunteer because I'm a recipient of a scholarship and I realize how much scholarships help you, both financially and psychologically," Gasanova says. "I don't know about other students, but when I get a scholarship, it's like a driving force that encourages me to study and do more. After volunteering, I was so encouraged and excited about the campaign that I made a small donation. It wasn't much, but I'm just glad to be a part."

Gasanova says she has made connections as a student volunteer that she believes will help her make the transition to professional life—from those who may be able to write a recommendation letter to those who know of openings in the healthcare field.

Ashley Flees, a 22-year-old who graduated from the college last year, had a similar experience to Gasanova's when volunteering for a phonathon.

"I decided to give my time for many reasons," Flees says. "I have received various scholarships that have helped me greatly along my educational and life path, so I feel it is only right that I give back when I can."

Students like Flees and Gasanova have made a noticeable difference in fundraising at the college, Clem notes.

She says the college receives a 2 to 4 percent response rate—meaning a gift has been made—from the nearly 13,000 mailings it sends each year. However, the response rate jumps to 35 percent for the 1,000 mailings that are followed up with a phone call from a volunteer.

"Obviously, calling to follow up to direct mail has greatly increased our contributions," Clem notes. "The cost is so minimal—pizza and soda and a few treats per session. Our only limitation really is the number of volunteers we can effectively manage."

CASE will host a webinar on how to set up a community college student phonathon next month.


This article is from the April 2012 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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