As dependable and beloved as the yearly changing of the leaves to their vibrant fall hues, Transylvania University’s annual Phonathon is taking place right now on a phone line near you. The Office of Alumni and Development initiative connects student callers with alumni and parents to solicit donations and increase awareness of the Transylvania Fund, but it also has a secondary purpose — to foster relationships between current and former Pioneers.
Student callers learn more about the experiences of alumni, connecting over topics such as shared majors, fraternity and sorority life and athletic experiences. Students can hear first-hand stories about unexpected career twists and turns and get advice about life after college from Pioneers who have already traveled those paths.
In turn, alumni who receive these calls have the opportunity to reminisce about their time at Transy, while hearing updates about what’s happening on campus. This can be particularly meaningful to older alumni who have been donors for decades and may not be able to return to campus in person.
Young alumni also enjoy the opportunity to give advice to their slightly younger peers and update current Pioneers on their lives post-graduation.
Along with relationship-building, student callers educate alumni on the importance of giving back to their alma mater and the impact that alumni giving can have on an institution’s rankings and grant eligibility. Callers share information about the Transylvania Fund, an annual giving program that supports scholarships for high-achieving students with significant financial need.
This year, callers are also promoting the institution’s new giving campaign, Raise the Bar for Transy: A Match for the Future. This campaign doubles renewed gifts and triples gifts that are new or upgraded, making every dollar stretch even further.
Participating in Phonathon helps students develop communication, fundraising and sales skills that will serve them well in their future careers. Helen Bischoff ’04, a former Phonathon employee and current Transylvania assistant library director, has fond memories of her time as a student caller in the early 2000s.
“I’ve been asked about Phonathon in every single job interview I’ve ever had,” Bischoff said, noting that her fundraising experience has been helpful in securing professional roles ranging from teaching high school to library programming. “It’s a skill set that is desired by employers.”
When asking for donations of time or money from businesses and individuals, “you have to talk to them and explain the ‘why,’” Bischoff said. “It’s why we still make phone calls — people want to talk to someone. They want to know why.”
When she served as the chair of the Staff Engagement Team in 2017, the skills she developed as a Phonathon caller helped her effectively solicit sponsors for the university’s annual PumpkinMania event. “If I hadn’t had that [Phonathon] experience, I don’t think I would have ever said, ‘I can do that,’” she said.
The 2022 student Phonathon managers are sophomores Carley Montgomery and Rachel Johnson. Calling hours take place on Sundays from 2-6 p.m., Tuesdays from 4-8 p.m., Wednesdays from 3-7 p.m. and Thursdays from 4-8 p.m.