“Tuition only covers about 60 percent of the cost of educating a BC student,” said Sara Eldridge, manager of the Boston College phone center. “Private support is really necessary here.” Consistently garnering between $5,000 and $10,000 in donations per night, with totals sometimes going upward of $20,000 depending on the alumni pool, the 60 to 80 BC students employed at the BC phone center work hard to earn that support.
The BC phone center, located in the basement of the Cadigan Alumni Center on Brighton Campus, employs predominantly undergraduates to call alumni, parents of current and past students, and friends of the BC community to ask for donations to the University. The base salary for student callers is $8.50 an hour, and if students consistently work three shifts per week, they are awarded a bonus that raises their cumulative salary to the equivalent of $9.25 an hour.
Students are trained by coming in for two or three shifts and listening in on other callers, going through a packet of calling guidelines, scripts, and procedures provided by RuffaloCODY, the Iowa-based fundraising company that has been utilized by BC for about 12 years, and then doing mock calls with the supervisors and with each other.
Each work night, four student supervisors oversee approximately 25 callers each, with two supervisors working each three-hour shift. The supervisors listen in to calls and coach callers on areas to improve.
Eldridge, along with the student employees, is employed and paid directly by RuffaloCODY. Besides scheduling hours, handling the payroll, and deciding which groups each shift will call, Eldridge also works closely with the Office of University Advancement and the BC Alumni Association.
“We have higher-ups from the BC Fund, the umbrella fundraiser from the school, who will come in from time to time, both to sit in on calls and hear what we’re saying, and also to get feedback from us,” said Alex Schlatter, one of four student supervisors at the phone center and A&S ’14. “They’ll say, ‘What are you guys hearing on the phones? Do you guys have any questions for us?'”
According to Schlatter, representatives from the Advancement Office will visit the call center on a regular basis, often preparing the callers for prospects’ reactions to or questions about events at the University, and shifting procedure accordingly.
“For example, right now we’re doing something called the Notre Dame Challenge,” he said. “We call our young alumni and we talk about how Notre Dame’s alumni giving percentage is in the 40s-whereas ours is in the 20s, it’s 24 or something-as a way to motivate them to get involved in giving.”
The potential donors, referred to as “prospects” by the student callers, are divided into groups depending on which school they graduated from, whether they were a graduate or undergraduate student, and their donation history. Many donors, said Margaret Sheridan, another student supervisor and A&S ’14, do not know that they can choose to donate directly to a specific school or program at BC.
“A lot of times, people will say, ‘I don’t want to give because I know it’ll just go to the football team, and I don’t want that to happen,’ and so we’ll explain that you can actually give directly to a specific school, or to the general scholarship fund, things like that,” she said.
Besides fundraising, the phone center works to compile information on the alumni they are calling and update demographic records, as well as maintain connections with BC alumni. Notwithstanding some prospects who are less than happy to be called for donations, Schlatter, Sheridan, and Eldridge all noted that callers often build rapport with prospects, and the calls can be a way to reconnect alumni with BC.
“One thing that we do is update them on what’s going on on-campus,” Eldridge said. “This is an opportunity for them to hear from a student about what the student experience is like now, what’s going on-to interact and reconnect with the community in a different way.”
“You really get to talk to all kinds of people from all walks of life,” Schlatter said. “You get to see how somebody with a degree in psychology went on to be the CEO of some start-up. You get to talk to so many different people about their experiences, get a lot of different perspectives on BC-everyone has different things they take out of this.”