Empowering Student Callers to Work Remotely

Posted on 03/01/2020

Appalachian State University’s student phonathon program employs 40 callers and supervisors, as well as four interns who work on student philanthropy, social media, stewardship, and special campaigns. Under normal circumstances, their primary role is to call alumni and solicit them for donations to the annual fund. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, campuses have been closed and students have returned home, making it impossible for student solicitation calls to continue in a way that is compliant with PCI data security standards.

Since many ASU students depend on the income they earn by working in the advancement office, the team has devised a plan to keep their callers and interns productive (and paid) while at home. After being approved by the university, the annual giving team used the school’s online learning platform to create a structured program through which callers can participate in professional development and connect virtually with advancement office staff, fellow callers, and donors. 

Student workers are provided with assignments to do remotely based on their experience level and availability. Much of their work is focused on improving their skills while they are off campus. Callers are asked to read a series of instructional articles from the AGN Library and then draft a brief summary report on what they learned. They are also viewing AGN’s training webinars to help them improve their understanding of fundraising and alumni relations. As part of the university’s AGN Membership, the students have free, unlimited access to over a hundred hours of online training.

In addition to virtual learning opportunities, callers have been asked to participate in mentoring sessions with advancement staff and invited to weekly virtual coffee chats with fellow students so they can stay connected. The team is using this time to get feedback on call center operations, including training, scripting, and other processes related to annual giving. Donor engagement is also an important part of their workload. Students are recording thank you videos to be shared with donors as a stewardship touchpoint.

So far, the program is being viewed as a success, with 88% of the students participating. Thanks to a little creative thinking on the part of the annual giving team, callers are gaining valuable skills while holding onto their jobs and remaining productive during this challenging time. 

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