BY PAULINE OO | PHOTOS BY ANDY FERRON AND REBECCA ZENEFSKI ’10
St. Kate’s students pick up the phone for professional and personal rewards.
Lauren Gillilan-Martin ’10 always starts her three-hour shift in the St. Kate’s Telefund call center on the fourth floor of Derham Hall with a question. On this brisk fall evening, the telefund supervisor asks her six student callers what they did over Thanksgiving weekend. Some replies illicit oohs and ahhs, others a belly laugh or follow-up question.
"My questions are pretty random, but they get people talking and they allow us to get to know each other better," says Gillilan-Martin, a foods and nutrition/science major serving her fourth year — and second as a student supervisor — on the St. Kate’s Telefund team.
This chitchat also warms up the students to the important task at hand: dialing a segment of St. Catherine University’s 30,000 alumnae to find out how they’re doing, to share news about their alma mater — and, for some, the most intimidating part, to request a donation. Each call tends to last five to 10 minutes and, with luck, ends with a pledge that goes toward the University’s Annual Fund. Pledges typically range from $25 to $5,000.
The Telefund operates seven days a week during the nine-month academic year. Up to eight callers work per shift, depending on students’ schedules. The call center, which handles roughly 12,000 conversations a year, is equipped with eight computers linked to an alumnae database.
Wallflowers need not apply. Stacy Rooney MAOL ’06, associate director of the Annual Fund, handpicks students who are gregarious and can speak clearly over the phone. (She herself is an articulate ball of energy.) This year’s team of 30 is made up of first-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors who are pursuing a variety of majors. A handful of the students are undecided or double majors.
"We think alumnae would appreciate talking to a current student, someone who’s actually experiencing St. Kate’s, more than they would a random person or a Development staff member," Rooney says. And the Telefund gives students the chance to earn money and acquire professional skills.
"I heard about it in my freshman year, from a friend who really enjoyed the work," says nursing major Katelyn Danks ’12. "So, I decided to try it out. My favorite part is the conversations I have with the people I call. Once, an alumna gave me nutritional advice."
Other callers have picked up valuable career contacts or learned more about an occupation or industry. Alumnae tales of the beloved Dolphins synchronized swim team and of sneaking out of the residence halls at night or being forbidden to wear pants on campus are popular gab topics.
CALLING ALL ALUMNAE!
Telefund students undergo 10 to 15 hours of training before they even get on the phone. Training includes tips on building rapport (FYI: listen) and handling objections (be polite) and participating in a series of role-play sessions with Rooney and the rest of the team. "Putting yourself out there to be scrutinized in front of the whole group is huge, but no one makes fun or criticizes you," says Amy Horwath ’08, a former student caller and supervisor. "Instead, you get this sense of safety because everyone in the room is there to help, and this develops that strong bond the team has."
Another reason for the camaraderie — most apparent when the team gathers for its once-a-month guffaw-filled meeting — is the effervescent Rooney. "Stacy is not like other bosses," Horwath says. "Her approach is: ‘I see you as my peer; let’s work together.’" This egalitarian attitude, Horwath adds, permeates the group and builds confidence in the students.
The Telefund team is aiming to raise $265,000 by May 31; that’s about 15 percent of the University’s Annual Fund goal of $1.85 million in fiscal year 2010. Gifts to the Annual Fund support operating costs and provide scholarships and financial aid for 92 percent of St. Kate’s students. Tuition covers only about 75 percent of the expenses the University incurs each year. So, even the small percentage of students who do not receive financial aid benefit from Annual Fund contributions.
"If I didn’t work at the telefund, I probably wouldn’t have understood how much money comes from alumnae and how much they help lower tuition for every student," says Horwath, who made her first contribution to St. Catherine last spring via the telefund. "Knowing this, and now being in a position to give, I feel it would be really selfish of me if I didn’t give."
Horwath was tickled to be on the other end of a St. Kate’s Telefund call. The conversation brought back a flood of memories of her four years on the job. "I was really shy as a freshman, but I eventually learned to talk to people and think on my feet," she says. "There are no canned approaches when you’re working the phones, because every call is different."
It’s 9 p.m., and a couple of the student callers are wrapping up their phone conversations. Supervisor Gillilan-Martin stands alert to confirm any credit card pledges, one of three ways alumnae can give to the telefund (the other two are by check and KatieDirect). She approaches Christina Froehling ’12, who hands over her headset. "Hi, Norma, I’m Lauren. Thank you so much for your pledge. Did you have any more questions?"
Pauline Oo is a staff writer and editor at St. Catherine University.
A photo break for Telefund team members. (Back row, L-R) Lauren Gillilan-Martin ’10, Courtney Hamton ’11, Venna Tschida ’11, Stacy Rooney ’06, (middle) Rebeka Tolle ’12, Jacki Hoehn ’13, Ka Vang ’13, (front row) Becca Clemens ’11, Lindsey Adams ’12, Bridget Blanz ’12.