Phonathon: The People Behind the Calls

By Katelynd Trinidad, 1/25/17

“Emily Gjovik,” by Katelynd Trinidad, 1/20/17. Sophomore caller Emily Gjovik works on thank you notes as she talks with a prospect over the phone.

“Hello, this is John Doe.”

“Hi John! My name is Jane and I’m a sophomore at Whitworth University. I was just calling to provide you with some campus updates and talk to you about the Whitworth Fund. Is now a good time?”

This is how a typical conversation with a Whitworth Phonathon caller starts. Some people are excited to receive these calls and talk to students from their alma mater, but others view these calls as annoying and unwanted solicitations. Regardless of people’s reactions however, Phonathon student callers are tasked with reaching out to parents and alumni to relay information and raise money for the Whitworth Fund.

It’s just another part of the job

It can be intimidating to ask for money over the phone and it can quickly become uncomfortable when prospective donors are harsh or rude. That, however is just another part of the job at Phonathon.

Former caller and current Assistant Manager of the Whitworth Phonathon Lee Reardanz remembers when he first started as a caller. “They told us during training not to think of ourselves as solicitors, because that’s not what we were. Instead they called us students reaching out from an institution that should be near and dear to prospective donor’s hearts,” Reardanz said.

Unfortunately, that’s not always how the prospect sees it.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab wrote that her experience with her alma mater has become one of annoyance as she is bombarded with phone calls. “I am now actively dodging calls from the university that I love,” Kassab writes.

Phonathon programs do often call numerous times a week when trying to contact a prospect. According to an article from Fired-Up Fundraising, this verbal contact over the phone is the most effective way to relay information and raise money in general, which is why phonathons are so persistent.

Prospects, however, don’t usually know this side of the story. Instead, all they see is the various missed calls from pesky Whitworth students asking for money.

Sometimes this can lead to frustratingly negative responses from prospects ranging from annoyance or an abrupt hang up, to outright yelling over the phone at students who are just trying to do their job.

The good stuff

It’s not all bad at the Phonathon; plenty of prospects do want to talk with student callers.

On nights when good calls are few and far between, a friendly conversation over the phone can really make a night for a caller. First-year caller Leah Robinson has had many of these experiences.

“So one time I was talking on the phone with a nice lady. She was super sweet and seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing,” Robinson said. “I had been super blown away because most of the time when we call alums, we want to hear about them and how they liked Whitworth. This time though, I was the one doing most of the talking.”

Sophomore Anna Delong also said she loves her job as a Phonathon caller. She said she enjoys talking to people and that developing those skills has given her confidence. “We get some of the craziest conversations and most of them are rewarding in some way. I feel energized, and complete whenever I leave from work,” Delong said.

Students aren’t the only ones who enjoy working with Phonathon programs. Michaela Scholz, Manager of the Azusa Pacific University Phonathon, says her job has been a blessing. “As the Phonathon Manager, I am able to combine my passion for philanthropy and my desire to develop positive and lasting relationships with people.”

Student callers and their impact

“Phonathon,” by Katelynd Trinidad, 1/20/17. The Whitworth University Phonathon connects with parents and alumni on an annual basis by calling over the phone to provide campus updates and speak about the Whitworth Fund.

Fundraising has always been an important activity for universities. For Whitworth University especially, as a private institution that relies heavily on donations, Phonathon plays an important role in raising money for scholarships and on-campus projects.

Jordan McCandless, Annual Giving Specialist and Manager of the Whitworth Phonathon, said the Phonathon is responsible for raising around $200,000 for the Whitworth Fund every year.

McCandless said students and their stories are a compelling way of asking people to give back, because parents and alumni can relate to the students on a personal level based on their shared connection with Whitworth.

“Students directly benefit from the gifts that are given so they are the most persuasive askers we have,” he said.

“Jordan McCandless Interview” by Katelynd Trinidad, 1/20/17 + “Sweet Promise- Happy Guitar Background Music” by SoundCloud user Nicolai Heidlas Music under Creative Commons License. Annual Giving Specialist and Whitworth Phonathon Manager Jordan McCandless talks about why students are the most effect medium for asking parents and alumni to give back.

So the next time you receive a call from the Phonathon, remember that it’s a student on the other end of the line and not just a machine. They are people with feelings who are just trying to fundraise for their school. They want to do their jobs, respect your time, and help you give back to an institution that hopefully has had a large impact on your life.

“Hi Jane! I’d love to talk to you for a while…”