Phonathon reaches $1 million in alumni donations

Elyssa Cherney

Northwestern University Phonathon passed the one-million mark Sunday, raising $1,015,535 from more than 8,000 donors.

Phonathon’s mission is two-fold, said Communication senior Brendan Stacey, a Phonathon supervisor.

“First and foremost is to establish and maintain a positive relationship with alumni,” he said. “The second is bringing in money for the University.”

Last year, Phonathon raised nearly $1.4 million from more than 13,000 donors. With four months left of calling, Phonathon is about on track, said Bridget Haggerty, senior director of annual giving.

Phonathon’s fiscal year mirrors the academic year and runs from the beginning of September through the end of August. By then, Haggerty said she hopes to break this year’s goal of $1.5 million.

“Not all the money goes to the same place, but you have to look at the aggregate effect of the money,” she said. “It adds up. That is a lot of new programs and a lot of space that can be renovated.”

Reaching the goal of $1.5 million can also mean full tuition scholarships for more than 20 undergraduates or the redesign and upgrade of spaces within one library building, she said.

When donating, alumni and other members of the NU community decide between several uses for their gifts. Phonathon callers offer several options, including the University unrestricted fund (also called the “general fund”), scholarship, specific academic departments, athletics and student life accounts.

Caller ID has challenged Phonathon this year, Haggerty said, with fewer people answering calls from “Northwestern.”

“There are fewer people picking up the phone this year,” she said. “But email and online gifts compensate a little for the decline in phone contacts.”

Though the economic downturn has also tested Phonathon in recent years, Stacey said the staff is more motivated than any he has seen since he began working for Phonathon in 2007.

“More so than ever before, Phonathon itself is a tighter-knit community,” he said. “People that are working there enjoy being there, are dedicated to the job, encouraging, supportive and want to improve their skills.”

This atmosphere fosters an effective work space that Stacey said he hopes can make it possible to reach this year’s goal. Team dinners and social events including movie nights, Cubs games and ice-skating all contribute to this positive work environment.

Medill sophomore Alexa Kamm is one of 85 student callers. She cited structural changes that have brought Phonathon more success this year.

“We’ve added more hours this quarter,” she said, referring to a new shift created to reach out to alumni who prefer daytime calls.

Kamm said her personal goals and statistics motivate her to raise as much money as she can for NU, but her relationships with alumni truly drive her at Phonathon.

“As cliché as it sounds, you do get to make pretty meaningful connections with co-workers and alumni,” she said. “Getting to hear what people experience after graduation and while they were here has actually really shaped the academic decisions I have made.”

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