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Students Take to the Phones for a Great Cause

Photo of students in the call center

When your phone rings, it may be your alma mater calling. This fall a highly enthusiastic group of Sac State students began calling alumni to talk about enhancing the value of a Sac State degree now and for the future by giving back to the University. There is a vested connection on both ends of the phone as these new fundraisers find out what alumni want and are interested in supporting at their University.

These are students who love Sac State. Ask them to sing the fight song over the phone and they will. Some of the questions from alums are a challenge—Was the library built backwards? Why are there chickens on campus?—But it’s all part of a job that pays off all the way around, according to Maggie Elkin, director of the
Telephone Outreach Program.

Nicole Jernigan, a sophomore who is planning to be a teacher, is a natural for the job. “I love to talk to people and I love to talk on the phone,” she laughed. She’s served as a greeter at an amusement park and as a hostess. “I just like to talk to people and to hear their stories.

“This job is fun and interesting, and you get a chance to learn a lot about campus,” she said, while thumbing through materials to locate information on Solano Hall for a question someone asked.

Meghan McCummings said while she’s never done anything like this before, she knows it’s a good match because, “I’m a pretty talkative, friendly person. And I’m generally pretty nice and happy.”

“I think it’s interesting to hear about the past and what others’ experiences were while they were here,” added Erin Upchurch. “And I know that we are
calling for a good cause.”

Donovan Pierce, a communication studies major in his second year on campus, found the transition from his previous job easy. He used to provide phone tech support to irate computer users. Calling University donors is not nearly as difficult, he said. But most of all, he said he wants to “support
Sac State—that’s important.”

The students and Elkin find there are many benefits to the job. First, they get good advice from alums on what courses to take and how to prepare for their careers. There may be job offers from alums. And, of course, there is work experience—learning customer service and serving as a representative of the University.

Before students get on the telephone, the University invests in developing their professionalism and overall knowledge of the University. There is a 15-hour training course so they clearly understand how and why a public university depends on the gifts from its alumni to establish an extra measure of excellence.

About 50 percent of the University’s support is from non-state funds, which provide for only the core programs, explains Georgina Borton, associate vice president of advancement. In past years money given to the annual fund has helped upgrade labs, provide additional scholarships, fellowships, symposiums, lectures and special faculty projects, as well as assist the marching band—which has promised to develop a special alumni tune in exchange for the support.

The student fundraisers, 20 in all who work in shifts of nine, know they are doing something important for the University. “It’s one of those jobs where the outcome can change people’s lives. Their efforts can help to enrich the programs of the University and to help students to get the most from their experience here,” said Elkin, the program director.

The students are fundraisers, but there are no scripts, no quotas and no pressure. The conversation with the alum can run from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Elkin stressed that she and the students know this is about conversations and relationships with proud alums, letting them know what they can do to help their University.

One donor alum asked to have the same student call next time so he could find out how she was doing through her freshman year.

“You should hear some of the conversations—like an engineering student listening to a recent grad, and both discussing a bridge project in great detail. They are totally engaged and totally interested. And both are thinking about Sac State and what their experience has done to change their lives. That’s what this is about,” Elkin said.

“And for sure, if you give a gift, you’ll get a thank you note from the student you worked with,” Elkin promised.

Borton said she wanted to get the call center operating for this year’s annual fund drive because, “This is where most donors participate. This is where we can keep donors and friends of the University informed. This is a link to the campus for alums. And, with the tremendous growth this campus is experiencing, there are needs, believe me there are needs, that these donations can address.”
Borton projects that within three years the call center will be generating nearly $500,000 from generous alums and friends, who like knowing that they can be of help in changing students’ lives or the face of the University.

She said, “Our alumni donors are increasing, but we want to raise that participation. Let’s face it, money affects the quality of programs and the experience students have on campus.”

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