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Student-run phonathon raises funds, keeps alumni in touch

by John Sponauer - November 28, 2006

Of the thousands of phone calls she's made on behalf of UConn, one stands out for Molly Ferguson.

"The donor I was calling had given before, but by the time we were done talking, this year's donation was up to $2,000," she says.

Ferguson, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in English and a teaching assistant, is communications manager for the UConn Foundation's student-run calling program.

About 6,000 such phone calls are made daily through the program.

Although not many calls result in a four-figure donation, student calling is a key component of the Foundation's annual giving efforts.

The calling program raised more than $1.7 million in pledges in fiscal year 2006, its third-best year ever.

Annual giving overall raised $3.8 million for the year.

"It's one of the best ways to spread our message of supporting UConn, and is our single most important method for updating alumni data," says Kenneth Goebel, the Foundation's assistant vice president of annual giving.

"UConn is near the top nationally for student calling. There just aren't many others with our capabilities."

The Foundation's calling center, recently renovated, boasts 36 state-of-the-art workstations, each connected to software that updates demographic information and processes pledges.

The software can be tailored to focus outgoing calls on certain demographics, giving levels, or target audiences.

For example, a yearlong focus on new donors generated approximately 1,500 pledges.

Even with the advanced technology, Goebel credits the students themselves for their success.

"Technology is a great tool, but it's the individual student caller who makes all the difference," he says.

"Their interest and enthusiasm set them apart."

Anthony Bellucci, who graduated in 2002, joined the calling program in 1997, and now oversees it as the Foundation's program director of class giving.

Meredith Klein joined the program as a sophomore and has since become the program manager of student groups, managing 125 student employees.

Students make phone calls to raise money for the Foundation's annual fund.
Students make phone calls to raise money for the Foundation’s annual fund.
Photo by Stephanie Gagliardi

Many of them - like her and Bellucci - go on to become managers and supervisors.

Ferguson has worked in the calling program for five years. She says success comes from having a good conversation.

"Most of the time, the donors are expecting an undergraduate. When I tell them I chose UConn for my second and third degree, they're really interested," she says.

"We're raising awareness, keeping alumni in touch, and inviting them to give back. Anything we can do to generate an understanding of what's happening at UConn is positive. In the end, their support helps ensure the value of my degree."

Bellucci says the program generates great interest among students.

The Foundation receives more than 20 employment applications a week, thanks in part to its high pay (the second-highest on campus), flexible schedule, and the career skills gained.

While she seeks to hire warm, outgoing students, Klein says the people being called are often just as friendly.

"Most people we talk to don't think of this as telemarketing," she says.

"They're already connected to UConn in some way, so it's much more of a casual conversation. Some people will talk to our callers for 15 minutes about what's going on at UConn. We love to hear their enthusiasm."

When that enthusiasm turns into a pledge, the funds support a wide range of activities and programs, including Deans Funds, support for a specific program of the donor's wishes, and merit- and need-based scholarships and fellowships.

One of the beneficiaries of scholarship support is shift supervisor Christina Hing '07, whose Leadership Scholarship is partly supported by the annual fund.

"That scholarship was the deciding factor in my coming to UConn," says Hing, "so it's great to be part of something that I'm benefiting from directly."  

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