Employing Students as Development Officers

Posted on 08/15/2017

It’s not unusual to walk into a phonathon center these days and make these two observations: One, the room is filled with intelligent and competent students, prepared to do their jobs, represent the institution proudly, and raise money for the annual fund. Two, these terrific human resources are being underutilized either because prospects don’t answer the phone at the same rate that they used to or because the students themselves are capable and interested in doing more.

For well over a decade, the University of Scranton’s annual fund had enjoyed a mature, high performing phonathon. But, like many programs, it was struggling with a decline in prospect contact rates. The new reality was an all too often quiet room of students waiting patiently for someone to answer their calls. Management knew they needed to find ways to utilize their talented callers, so they decided to put them to work outside of the call center by creating a new role within the annual fund for Student Development Officers.

Inspired by the student discovery program pioneered over a decade ago by Georgetown University, these student development officers made personal visits to under-engaged alumni and parent prospects. They focused on local visits while school was in session and they visited prospects in their hometowns during academic breaks. The student development officer team was comprised of the most mature and talented student callers, who received additional training on how to secure, conduct, and follow up on visits. Their primary goals were to collect information and solicit annual fund gifts. Most were assigned to lapsed and non-donors with some indication of leadership gift potential.

Student development officers also assisted with stewardship projects, attended events, and helped to manage a four-year philanthropy program aimed at educating students beginning in their freshman year. Additionally, the program helped prepare the students for careers in development. In its first year alone, three of Scranton’s top student development officers secured full-time university fundraising positions after their graduation.

Not only does an initiative like this help engage rated prospects in a more personal way, but it can make better use of university resources when your phonathon isn’t reaching its full potential. Combine these key benefits with the valuable experience provided to your student development officers, and you’ve turned an otherwise discouraging situation into a win-win-win.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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