Fiber-optic fund-raising, with feeling

Students and the telephone: a natural combination. At the Telefund office of the Emory Annual Fund, one can eavesdrop on any number of youthful conversationalists. For a quarter's worth of time, one learns not about rock stars or where the good pizzas are. Rather, the subject matter is more serious, as current students talk to alumni and parents about the value of an Emory education.

This year is the decade marker for the Telefund, which works in tandem with the printed pieces of the Annual Fund to raise money for essential services--faculty support, student scholarships, and laboratory and computer equipment--not covered by tuition revenue. Last year, the Telefund office reported that 7,430 donors pledged $507,000. The total raised represents nearly a 6 percent increase from the previous year.

Timothy Minor, Telefund director since 1994, is pleased. Being pleased, however, should not imply complacence. A phone in its cradle is almost an affront to Minor and his staff, who convey an air of hustle and commitment during calling periods. Calls begin in the fall--the time of the biggest push--and go year-round.

The staff is one of the most dedicated on campus, consisting of both work-study and non-work-study students. Trainees undergo orientation and then are paired with a more experienced caller. According to Minor, the training calls are deliberately more challenging than most actual calls.

Noah Simon, a senior from Orlando, is one of the mainstays of the student staff. Simon has been on the Telefund's Best of the Best chart, which honors those students who lead in cumulative dollars raised, pledge rate, and number of contacts. A political science major, Simon sometimes capitalizes on his academic background when calling. During the Republican primary debates, Simon phoned an alumnus who was tuned in to the discussions on television. For a few minutes, the two men offered one another spirited analysis of the debate. One result of their newfound camaraderie was a contribution from the alumnus.

Students who work at the Telefund hone their communications skills, gain expertise in sales, and boost their levels of confidence in doing an important job well. A job with the Telefund gives students the benefit of working within an organization in which good work is rewarded with promotion. Indeed, eight students are chosen every year as supervisors.

The skills required of the students prove invaluable in the workplace--as graduating seniors and Telefund supervisors Jami Poskanzer, Melissa Siegel, and Richard Peterson well know. Poskanzer has just won a full scholarship to Emory Law School; Siegel will join the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen in Boston; and Peterson has accepted a position with IBM in Atlanta. The admission committee of the law school and the two employers expressed pronounced interest in the work that the three had done for the Telefund. According to Melissa Siegel, "The folks at Arthur Andersen made appreciative note of the leadership ability I had gained at Telefund, especially the experience of working with peers. In the independent thinking required of us and the people skills, they saw real merit."

As Siegel and her coworkers have learned, Telefund work is not only about fund-raising; it is equally about friend-raising. In that regard, the students truly can be considered ambassadors of the University. On any given calling night, thirteen to fifteen students will speak with approximately two hundred and fifty alumni. An attentive ear can pick up a number of interesting tidbits in the students' statements: "Tuition covers only . . ." ; "Woodruff money certainly has helped Emory, but . . ."; "Every little bit helps . . ."

In these fragments is a lesson for both the caller and the one called. Endowment does not provide the University with adequate funding, which is why consistent annual giving from alumni is so crucial. In relating this message, students begin to appreciate its truth. They are then more apt, after graduating, to become volunteers--alumni who aid Emory's annual fund efforts for a specific school.

Robert G. Pennington '74Ox-'76C-'81L-'81MBA, chair of the Annual Fund, is a striking example of the volunteer spirit. "We are fortunate that Emory students are willing to reach out to alumni in this way," Pennington said. "Clearly these students are the soul of the Telefund's efforts. We are grateful to them and are confident that their efforts will continue to help the Annual Fund provide the support that sustains Emory as a truly great university."

Calls placed through the Telefund have the benefit of discerning the prevailing mood of Emory alumni. They also give the University a means of informing alumni. A special comment board exists at the Telefund to record memorable alumni responses, whether wise or wise-cracking. With each call placed, the whys and wrys of Annual Fund support are articulated once again.--S.M.C.

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