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Feature

Students calling alumni.

This year's team of student callers will have 130,000 conversations with alumni, resulting in lots of great advice and several pledges of support to the U.

Calling all alumni

U students pick up the phone for professional and personal rewards

By Steve Anderson

From M, spring 2007

When U of M students ask alumni for gifts over the phone, it's not just dollars that the grads contribute. A recipe for rhubarb pie, the secrets of a good relationship (FYI: communication and trust), and the merits of name-brand macaroni and cheese are all things alumni have shared.

True, you can't take advice and recipes to the bank. But encouraging alumni to say what's on their mind is still a critical aim of the U's effort to re-engage graduates. "We've always tried to create great conversations for our alumni," says director of telemarketing Peter Rozga. "Usually, that means informing them about what's happening on campus."

Who better to relay campus chatter than current students? Around 100 student callers work on the telemarketing fund-raising staff. Each day, some 40 callers dial a segment of the U's 400,000-plus alumni to give them news from their department, their college, and the University as a whole. The 130,000 conversations callers have each year with alumni and friends typically last five to seven minutes and hopefully end with a pledge. In the past, pledges have been anywhere from $5 to $25,000.

Gifts of the gab

So far this year, pledges are outpacing projections. The current crop of callers reached the $1.5 million milestone six weeks before the same mark was hit last year. The majority of contributions are to an area of the University alumni feel strongly about; many are directed toward scholarships that help students study abroad, conduct research, or pursue interests in the arts, to name a few.

While no one's tallying the nonmonetary gifts student callers receive, each has stories that reflect the value of their conversations. Ashley Penney, a senior English and elementary education major, keeps a notebook of all the great advice she gets from alumni in the education field.

Back talk

Alumni recall conversations with student callers:

"Rachel was friendly, courteous, interested, enthusiastic--one of those callers who left me feeling good just for having talked to her."

"I probably would not have increased my giving this year if I hadn't been so impressed with the student caller."

"Nick was AWESOME on the phone; he really made me miss the U and remember how much I love it."

Superintendents, teachers, and cafeteria workers have all offered Penney tips on how to research a school district to make sure it fits with her teaching philosophy, how to tell which districts are good places to look for jobs, and how to prepare for an interview.

"Someday, I'll be able to thank alums for helping me get a job," she says.

Senior architecture major Josh Larson started as a student caller his freshman year and is now a student supervisor. "This job makes you feel really good because you get to make connections with people," he explains. "You feel good about making money for the U, making money for other students in need."

Those sentiments stick with Larson even after he hangs up the phone. He often takes his message of giving into the campus community. "Talking with people in class about what I do makes them think that they should consider giving back to the U," he says. "It makes them appreciate their U education even more."