Sarika Jagtiani

Phone Center rakes in big bucks

Sean Turpin, an employee of the Kent State Phone Center, calls alumni of the university for donations to the school.

Credit: Beth Rankin

The efforts of 75 students and a handful of staff members have made Kent State about $950,000 richer this year.

The Kent State Phone Center raised about $1.225 million in pledges during the 2005 fiscal year, which ended June 30. Of that $1.225 million, about $950,000 has been fulfilled, or paid.

This is nearly twice as much as the $674,000 that was pledged four years ago, said Matt Geis, assistant director of Annual Giving. Geis credits the increase to a few factors.

First, callers now ask for a gift of $2,500 instead of the old amount of $250. Second, with lower caller turnover now than in the past, callers are more familiar with the fund raising drill.

Fund raising has become increasingly important since the university’s state funding is at a late-’90s level, according to Vice President of Administration David Creamer in a June 6 Stater article.

The center’s goal for fiscal year 2006, which began July 1, is to raise $1.35 million in pledges and to have $1 million of that fulfilled. This would be an increase of $150,000 from its fiscal year 2005 earnings.

The phone center callers contact 130,000 alumni a year, plus thousands of faculty and staff, friends of the university (non-alumni donors) and parents of current students.

Donors can designate which of the following will receive their gifts: the school or program from which they graduated; athletics; endowments; or the KSU Growth Fund, which is used for general scholarship needs, Geis said.

Although they are calling people to raise money, the phone center callers don’t see themselves as telemarketers. They’re fund-raisers.

“I’m part of something bigger than myself,” said Jim Hofbauer, assistant program manager.

Hofbauer started as a caller in October 2000 while pursuing his bachelor’s in education. While working toward his degree, Hofbauer rose through the ranks of supervisor and student manager before graduating in May and arriving at his current position.

Hofbauer said most people who stay at the phone center do so because of the atmosphere and the sense that they’re working toward something worthwhile.

Michelle McCall, junior business management major and pre-law minor, has worked at the center more than a year and is now a senior caller.

McCall not only calls donors, but also mentors newer callers and helps foster a sense of community – a “community together at work,” McCall said.

Doug Henry, another senior caller, graduated in May with a degree in integrated math but is still happy to be at the phone center.

Henry has been a caller for two years. He agrees with McCall that the phone center atmosphere makes the job enjoyable.

On a typical Wednesday evening at 5 p.m. the staff gets ready for four hours of calling.

Twenty-one students inhabit the cramped, gray cubicles of the phone center while supervisors roam around chatting with the callers. During a warm-up session at 5 p.m., headphones rest unused on cubicle partitions as chatter bounces off the sky blue walls decorated with Kent State logos.

Although the staff is there to raise money, Hofbauer never forgets where the money is going.

“Everyone deserves to get an education,” he said.

Contact general assignment reporter Sarika Jagtiani at [email protected].