by Nicole Nelson
The rising cost of an education is a fundamental concern of any college student. For many students, paying for a degree would be impossible without one or more forms of financial aid. With the current economic crisis, it has become increasingly important for schools to raise funds to help offset these costs through scholarships, grants, and other much-needed forms of aid. Institutions are continually looking for new means of fundraising to meet the demand. Some schools, like SAIC, are using the students themselves as partners in this process.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, along with other institutions like the University of Chicago and DePaul University, have begun using student workers to solicit donations from alumni over the phone. “A phone call allows us the ability to elaborate and really share why the funding is important,” says Brian Kish, an Annual Giving Consultant with Campbell & Company, a nonprofit consulting firm that helped SAIC establish their Student Telefund. “With direct mail, we can only fit so much on a piece of paper and can only hold someone’s attention for so long. Verbally, we can hold someone’s attention longer and really connect with an emotion — the heart-string leads to the purse-string.”
This has proven true with SAIC’s Student Telefund, which began in 2009 with the two-fold purpose of raising money for the Annual Fund and reconnecting with SAIC alumni. For a program that is only in its second year, the Telefund has already made an impact on the School.
“We doubled our revenue with annual fund gifts alone, and we were able to come in contact with over 10,000 of our alumni,” says Maureen McInerney, the Assistant Director of SAIC’s Annual Fund and manager of the Telefund. The money that goes into this fund is applied wherever needed around the school, from scholarships to supplies to maintaining the facilities.
This contribution is considerable considering the size of SAIC’s operation. The Student Telefund is a small, consisting of 15 students, with only 11 students working each shift and no permanent space for its operations. The students transform the 817 Conference Room in the Sharp building into a call center on the four nights a week the Telefund operates. Depending on how many people answer the phone, the students make 50 to 125 calls a night. But beyond making the calls, the students play a key role in the Telefund’s success.
“Using the person who is going to benefit from the gift is the best way to make phone calls,” says Kish. “Everyone you talk to can relate to that student experience because we’re calling alumni. They’re more tolerant of the person calling because they know a little bit of who they are because they were a student at one time as well. The alum is sympathetic to the person making those calls, and will be more patient and thoughtful in their responses.”
Phone calls allow for a two-way interaction between the students and alumni, a process that can prove beneficial to both. “We all look for the alumni who graduated from our programs. They have a lot of knowledge and can tell us about what to expect,” says Zach Hutchinson, a freshman BFA student. Community building is also an important goal of any telefund, one that is facilitated by making these personal connections.
“The purpose of our calls is not just to raise money, “ says Brenna Quinn, a BFA in Painting and Drawing and one of the Telefund’s student managers. “We’re also updating records and sharing current events and news. Letting people know that there is other information we have to share with them is an important part of the call and that makes it easier to ask them for a gift or a pledge. Ultimately if they give, it’s great, but as long as they get that information it’s still a successful phone call.”
McInerney is excited about the connections the program has helped build. “We explore all avenues of giving, not just money. Our most important goal is to make those connections with alumni again. We want them to feel a part of SAIC.”