The yearly phone-a-thon contacting alumni, which is normally scheduled in March, is being postponed or permanently mothballed. The new Director of Development and Alumni Relations Lauren Philie is going forward with a new strategy.
“The phone-a-thon has been in March in the past, but that is when we had full staffing at this office,” she said. With the staff reduced to Philie, part of the problem has been time to plan the event. “I am hiring a data base manager but we haven’t got that in place yet,” Philie said, “so I am doing what I can to keep afloat and strategically move forward, and still be able to reach out to alums and do the fundraising which we need, but not have to put as much work up front into doing it.”
According to JSC President Barbara Murphy, Philie has a different idea for the important function of alumni relations. “She came to me,” said Murphy, “ and said, ‘You know, I am looking at numbers, I am looking at history, I am not sure this[phone-a-thon] is the best model to pull together 10 to 20 students to make the calls over a two-week period. I am just not sure that it is working as well as it might. We’re not pulling in that much money.”
Philie explained that other colleges are going to a model where, instead of dedicating a couple of weeks a year to phoning alums, a few students will work year round. “I may just rehire some students that already have experience doing it and have them do it out of my office little by little for a couple months,” she said. “We will still be calling alums; we will be doing it in some form.”
Murphy agreed this new model was a good idea. “There are several reasons to reach out to alums and call them,” she said.
One reason is to check in with alums about changes, updating alumni records. Another is asking for a gift or repeating a gift from the year before. “It also gives you a chance to talk with alums and ask them, ‘have you heard about our new renovation of the Visual Arts Center?’ said Murphy. “Or bring them up to date on college news, direct them to the website, or ask if they want to be added to an arts event mailing list.”
Murphy was adamant that cancelling the phone-a-thon would not move the college away from reaching out to alums.
Philie and Murphy have discussed trying the new model of fundraising, having fewer students working longer throughout the year, and then compare both the quality and amount of information they get from alums and also see if this is an effective way to solicit their gifts.
Murphy stated that the whole scope of phone-a-thons has shifted since caller I.D. “People can look and say, ‘I owe them money for a bill, or they’re asking for a gift and I am not in the mood tonight.’” People are moving to cell phones, and organizations have to think of the best new ways to reach people.
“We are also using social media more, seeing if alums want to be in touch with us electronically,” Murphy said. “A lot of people prefer that way of communicating these days because they can do it on their time, on their schedule.”