The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family, as well as to re-establish old relationships. Student callers in the Annual Fund take that sentiment seriously as they talk with hundreds of alumni in December.
Dialing up to 2,000 numbers a night, students have the dual goal of informing alumni about the goings-on at Cal Poly Pomona and raising money for the university. The conversations are a thoughtful balance between news updates and fundraising.
“Even though our alumni aren¿t here, we still consider them family, and you help your family when they need help,” says Leontre Tabor, who is studying graphic design.
Annual Fund raises about $500,000 a year by contacting thousands of alumni, parents and students through phone, email and direct mail. Donations support financial aid, scholarships, and specific departments and majors. Last spring, student callers garnered $8,200 for the 2011 senior class gift, a new Mesozoic garden that will be installed in the Rain Bird Rainforest Learning Center.
For many alumni, the phone call is their annual connection to the university. One Friday evening, student caller Brandon King chatted with a 1966 alumnus about the class gift, the College of Business building complex and the renovated Kellogg Gym.
King didn’t get a donation, but the rejection didn’t upset him. “A lot of people will hear you out, but they¿re not always down to give you money. It¿s not always about the money,” says the biotechnology senior. “You have to plant the seed. If they don’t give now, then maybe [they will] sometime in the future.”
Cara Borchardt, a music education sophomore, says she understands the tough economy and the financial restraints many people face. She often shares her brother¿s difficulty in finding a job and how she had to apply for a student loan this year.
“I try to be nice and courteous about it,” she says. “We care. We’re not just here to seek out money.”
At the same time, Borchardt says, she wants alumni to remember what it¿s like to be in college and understand how the experience has changed for today¿s generation. State funding for the CSU has dropped nearly $1 billion since 2007-08, and tuition increases aren¿t enough to make up for the shortfall.
“I had one alumna tell me that her tuition was $41. I told her that it’s over $2,000 [a quarter] now,” Borchardt says. “And then she gave.”
Annual Fund began in 1973 when then-Alumni Affairs director Ron Simons, now associate vice president of special projects, began calling for donations. He and about 15 alumni volunteers borrowed office phones from banks and brokerage firms in downtown Pomona, and the program grew from there. Today, Annual Fund employs about 40 students, including six student managers.
“It originated out of an idea that we should be asking our alumni to give,” says Annual Fund director Dolores Ybarra. “Cal Poly Pomona is a learn-by-doing institution, and our educational model is more expensive. Alumni benefited from that hands-on experience. We need private support to make it possible for today’s students.”
Ybarra, a 2003 alumna and former student caller, finds that the best way to inspire giving is to focus on the many positives of a Cal Poly Pomona education ¿ hands-on learning, small class sizes, personal interaction with faculty, lifelong friendships and a strong foundation. She and phonathon coordinator Kayhan Ahmadi , as well as student supervisors, work to keep the holiday spirit alive year-round.
“While other telemarketers try to sell a product, we¿re trying to tell alumni that they¿re part of our family,” says Vanessa Valyan, a third-year psychology major. ¿Even if I don¿t get a donation from then, I still want them to keep Cal Poly Pomona part of their life.”
Cal Poly Pomona has embarked on a $150 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to ensure that a quality college education is within reach for future generations of students. The campaign will strengthen the university’s ability to provide a hands-on education, to prepare students for the changing demands of the workplace, and to increase research and scholarship opportunities. The fundraising campaign relies on the support of the entire campus community — from alumni to faculty and staff to friends of the university. For more information, visit https://campaign.cpp.edu/.