When it was determined that the call center be moved from ProCom in town to the basement of the library, Jesse Bolinger, director of the student call center, knew just what he wanted it to look like. The room, full of student workstations, is covered floor to ceiling with GU memorabilia, including old banners, homecoming programs, photos, and band uniforms. “It puts the students in the right mindset,” he says. These students are set with the task of raising $25,000 this semester for the Annual Fund. They come in Monday through Thursday in the evenings, working two or four hour shifts, to call alumni and friends and ask for donations.
The students went through three days of training before starting the project. Training consisted of Graceland traditions and history, how to conduct oneself on the phone, and how to ask questions to alumni. The students started out with a script, but by now, not one caller uses it. They’ve made it their own, and they share personal Graceland experiences on the phone with potential donors.
For Senior Brandon McCaffery, the call center is a really unique job. He says, “I get the pleasure of having conversations with alumni from all over the country. I call between 50-75 households a day to share news and invite them to donate to Graceland’s Annual Fund. Mostly, these calls are about building and maintaining positive relationships with Graceland alumni.”
Bolinger has also gathered different prizes for students who sell the most. At the end of the project, the top seller will get a $50 gift card to Casey’s. The student workers also get a prize for every $1,000 they raise. McCaffery says it’s “just a really fun, laid back work environment.”
The calls happen in three parts. First, callers share news and updates. For example, GU wants to redo Closson center and Briggs and build an intramural gym. Graceland also has a new pep band. This information tells alumni and friends about the great things happening on campus and plans to improve the school. Next, the callers update the record of the alumni, ensuring they have the right address and phone number. This is also the time when the caller gets to know the person they are calling, asking questions about what their relationship to Graceland is and what the university means to them. The final part of the call involves explaining what the annual fund is and asking for a gift. The goal is for alumni to donate unrestricted dollars that can be used for anything, although some donors may be interested in money to go to a certain project or scholarship.
Bolinger says, “The student workers are hugely encouraged to talk about their own Graceland experiences and to get really personal because it helps to build a connection. It’s not just about raising a certain amount, but making connections. It’s about hearing their story and sharing your story.” He tells the student workers that just because alumni didn’t give during a call doesn’t mean they won’t give later, and that forming that connection is such an important part of fundraising. McCaffery adds, “It’s personally rewarding to have such great conversations with experienced alumni because they often have useful advice for me.”
All of development has to raise $454,000 in unrestricted dollars this year, and the call center will raise $50,000, or $25,000 each semester. Bolinger says, “The call center is a small part of Graceland fundraising, but an important part because it is student-driven, whereas other fundraising efforts are conducted by employees.” This unique opportunity for students will make an impact on Graceland Development for years to come, allowing students and alumni alike to leave a footprint on the Graceland campus.
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