WC Phonathon Calls for Change

By The Elm - Oct 28,2013@3:15 pm

Student worker Julia Smith calls alumni both for donations to the College and maintain alumni relations. This year’s Phonathon.
Photo by Emma Way

By Catalina Righter
Elm Staff Writer

Recently the Alumni House Phonathon has gone digital. By combining some old Shoremen with some new technology, Washington College hopes to keep the lines of communication strong between student and former graduates.

Alumni, by sharing the copious life experience and wealth they’ve gained, act as a hidden engine that makes WC run.  While some can visit the college, the network is so far reaching that only about ten percent of worldwide alumni are able to reach out to WC in person. This is where Phonathon comes in.

During Phonathon, student workers call as many alumni as possible, and talk to them about what they love about WC, letting them know that there is still something here worth supporting.

“Alumni provide the school support that can be used immediately”  said John Beck, assistant director of alumni relations and Annual Giving, Their donations become part of the Washington Fund and are used for varied purposes from updating technological equipment to funding research projects on campus.  In addition, sources like the Princeton Review that rate colleges across the nation, take alumni donations into consideration.

A large percentage of donors as opposed to a large donation is what catches the attention of these organizations. By computerizing the system of Phonathon, The Alumni Relations Team is able to reach 20 percent more of the WC alumni and hopes the process of asking for these donations has become more personal.

The switchover was not a small endeavor. It took more than 100 hours of work to transfer years of information to the online database, as well as a monetary investment of about $10,000. Before making the decision, the Alumni Relations team talked to different schools who had already made the switch.

They met with both those that loved the new digital system and one that had switched back to paper after having problems. However, this school was much smaller and younger than WC and did not have a large enough pool of alumni to justify the investment involved in digitalization. Alumni Relations also consulted with the I.T. office to make sure the transition would work and that they were purchasing the correct equipment. So far, the switch has been a positive one. “As far as I have heard, the [student] callers are psyched,” said Beck.  He estimates that his time spent doing Phonathon related paperwork has dropped down to a quarter of what it had been.

Previously Phonathon involved a huge ream of paper including each alum’s name, graduating year, major and any previous donation to the school.  The room was full of workers on analog phones, dialing a lot of buttons and trying to make a personal connection off of an impersonal set of information.

Now digitalized, the process is somewhat like a Skype call, where the student worker can call directly through the computer. Lucky for our alumni, the college has invested in good headsets so the call quality is much better than what you get Skyping your mom over Wi-Fi. In addition, the screen displays as much information as the older paper file, but also includes information like the organizations, sports, and events each former student was involved in. This gives the caller something to start a conversation with, and helps connect both parties through their shared WC experience.

These connections still exist even when the alum has been out of school for many years. According to Beck, some of the best stories come from the oldest alumni. “You’ll be talking to someone who was a walk on for three different sports because the school was so small then and they needed a 12th man just to have a basketball team.”

Phonathon isn’t strictly about asking for money. Alumni feel pride in the school by hearing from enthusiastic current students. Current students learn a lot about the human history of the institution. “It’s become part of a nice circular process,” said Beck.

Phonathon hires students at the beginning of each semester. For more information go to https://www.washcoll.edu/live/forms/154-work-for-the-washington-fund-phonathon.

The Elm

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