Games and incentives encourage student callers
Published: Monday, October 9, 2006
Updated: Sunday, July 19, 2009 05:07
The hum of fluorescent lights fades as students file through the back door of Rees Hall. They enter a large room flanked with brightly colored bulletin boards and find their seats behind flat-screen monitors in sterile cubicles.
From a tower of yellow mail-slots at the back of the room come black binders brimming with paperwork. Twenty-eight headsets find their places in the ears of 28 student callers prepared to battle for the hearts and wallets of thousands of university alumni.
"It's like kindergarten," said Heather Barron, associate director of Annual Giving, in reference to the lively office atmosphere.
Rees Hall is the call center for the Fund for Delaware, an organization which updates records, informs alumni of upcoming events and collects donations for various departments and activities, Barron said.
Sophomore Alyssa Forsell said the call center shares similarities with telemarketing, but that is just one aspect of the job.
"The Fund for Delaware does so much more than solicit people for money," Forsell said. "We try to get to know the person. The money is only 30 seconds of the conversation."
She said during her first few calls, she was nervous but told herself, "They're just people. You'll never see them if they don't give you any money."
Ryan Lawrence, a sophomore student caller, said some alumni have become annoyed at calls for donations, but it is rare that anyone becomes aggressive or slams down a telephone.
Lawrence said when he previously worked at an MBNA call center, some customers became irate and disrespectful.
"The calls here are nothing like that," he said.
Lawrence said while he was hesitant to work in an office environment after his previous job, the relaxed environment of the Fund for Delaware won him over.
Junior Christine Dierickx said she originally became a student caller because she needed the money, but it has since become an important part of her life.
"I've stayed because I've become dedicated to it," Dierickx said. "I've met friends and my boyfriend here."
In her fourth semester at the call center, she said she has been promoted to team leader, which is a caller with the added responsibility of training new employees and preparing the workplace competitions.
Two to three days per week, she prepares the nightly game, which is a competition between student callers to see who raises the most money. When callers secure a donation or accomplish a goal, they play a quick game to gain points toward the nightly prize. One such prize is a $5 gift certificate for the first caller who receives a $500 pledge.
Program manager David Gilefski said in addition to individual prizes, the team which gathers the most donations for the week receives a party the following Tuesday.
Some student callers said they chose the job because it pays more than other campus jobs.
Lawrence said he decided to work at the call center because of his previous experience and the job's $7 starting wage.
"All other campus jobs I looked into began at $6.15, minimum wage," he said.
Dierickx said her $8.40 wage is an exception. Having worked at the call center for two years, she received the usual performance-based raises, in addition to the pay increase which comes with her promotion to team leader.
Barron said working at the Fund for Delaware affords student callers opportunities over other university students. They have the advantage of knowing something about every part of the university and are aware of scholarships and alumni benefits they may not have known otherwise.
Dierickx said she has gained communication skills which have allowed her to approach professional interviews with confidence. She said due to her work at the call center, she found it easier to emphasize her assets to potential employers.
Besides educational and future job opportunities, Dierickx said being a student caller has kept workdays exciting.
"You always have good stories to tell your friends - you get some crazy people," she said.
Dierickx said one day she was calling freshmen parents and a dad said, "You sound really nice. My son lives in Dickinson. Maybe you could call him.
"He was trying to hook me up with his son - that's happened a few times," she said.
Dierickx said she has met many friendly people who keep her engaged.
"I just talked to an alumna born in 1919 and she was a talker," she said. "But it's interesting and really entertains you."