It is Thursday evening and the phone rings. You answer the phone to hear a Meredith student on the other end of the line. Did you know this is your chance to simply have a conversation with a current student? These students, just like you in the past, are enjoying college but want to learn more about you and what life will be like after they leave the gates of Meredith.
“I love calling alumnae who have similar majors and interests as me,” says, Rachel Kennedy, ’20. “It’s wonderful to hear what they have been doing since graduation, especially if their major is the same one that I am currently pursuing.”
Phonathoners often call alumnae with their same major as a way to get the conversation started, since establishing a connection is important. Phonathon callers are trained to begin their conversation by seeking to update an alumna’s contact information in the database to ensure the alumna receives information about events, reunion, and special email messages from the College.
Often during calls, students learn about life events that have happened like the birth of a child, a recent wedding, or a death in the family. Special handwritten notes are sent to the alumna and the information is shared for inclusion in Meredith Magazine. These conversations help student callers fine-tune their communication skills, master recording information accurately, learn organizational skills, and gain confidence in their abilities to make connections.
“Phonathon taught me a different way to think about my future – I was constantly speaking to women with my same degree who opened my eyes to so many different career paths I had never even considered,” said Morgan Daly, ’19. “I think it enabled me to really set myself up for success after graduation.”
Daly recently finished her Master of Accounting degree at NC State University and began working at Johnson Lambert in Raleigh as a tax associate. She worked all four years at Meredith as a Phonathon caller. She learned as a freshman that Phonathon supports so many people on campus through gifts to the College, and she wanted to work for an organization that was truly making a difference. At the same time, she saw it as a chance to step out of her comfort zone, as an introvert, and work on new skills.
Meg Sink, ’18, assistant director of the Meredith Fund, oversees this group of student workers each semester. Her process for interviewing students for the job sets them up perfectly for what the job entails. After receiving a resume and cover letter, Sink conducts a phone interview with each applicant, since that is how they will be communicating with alumnae. After they are hired, she trains the new callers along with student supervisors, who have one to two years of experience. Students learn about Institutional Advancement, projects for which the College is raising money, and the meaning of philanthropy. They go through mock calls to learn how to handle callers who may not want to talk that evening to ones who want to share their experiences.
“Our goal is for students to learn good communication skills,” said Sink. “Through this job students are much more comfortable with public speaking and know how to handle all types of situations on the phone.”
Jasmine Lewis, ’21, started working at Phonathon in 2019. She applied because she thought it would be a great opportunity to learn how to communicate professionally.
“I would like alumnae to know that we are calling to receive more than a gift,” said Lewis. “Calling alumnae is my favorite time of the day. I enjoy hearing about their time at Meredith such as their favorite tradition or a funny story and what they have pursued after Meredith. It certainly puts a smile on my face!”
Consepcion Cruz, ’23, became a Phona-thon caller in the spring 2020 semester. “One thing I have learned about myself in this short time is that I am actually more confident than I think I am. All my life I was very shy, but as soon as I started working at Phonathon, I gained a lot of confidence that I didn’t know I had.”
Phonathoners Show Resilience During Pandemic
Not long after Cruz started working, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Meredith to transition to primarily online learning. Sink reached out to the student workers to establish who would be interested in working from home. The students who were able to work remotely learned how to use Google Voice and Google Sheets to keep track of their calls and enable Sink to check their progress each day.
“I worked with the Offices of Alumnae Relations and the Meredith Fund to get a list of alumnae for students to call. The purpose of the calls during that time was to check in on older alumnae who were living in nursing or assisted living homes since many of them were, and continue to be, on lockdown,” said Sink. “We even sent a crossword puzzle to those who spoke with a phonathon caller to thank them and keep them engaged.”
Thanking donors is an important aspect of the job. Callers reach out to alumnae before Giving Day to ask them to make a gift during that 24 hour period, but they also conduct thank you calls after Giving Day to thank donors for supporting the College.
“If I had to name one thing that Phonathon has taught me, it would be the importance of philanthropy,” said Lewis. “I’ve learned that it’s important as a student to give back to your institution, and it takes much more than tuition to keep a college going. Therefore, I am so grateful to be attending my dream school and even more grateful to be giving back as a student.”
“If you give a Phonathon caller a conversation, she is going to learn how she can make a difference as a Meredith student and, eventually, as a Meredith alumna,” says Sink. “And you are setting her up for success whatever career path she chooses.”
Remember, when you answer the phone to talk to a Phonathon caller, you are giving her the opportunity to learn about a strong woman by sharing your Meredith story. Whether or not you realize it, you are giving that student the opportunity to practice her communication skills, giving her the confidence to talk to new people she does not know. And if you give a gift of any size, you are affecting that student’s experience while she is attending Meredith College.