For 25 years, students working for the UT Telefund have called alumni asking for contributions. They’ve obviously done a super job, raising $8.5 million for programs throughout the statewide university. Almost 145,000 donors have said yes to appeals for such worthwhile endeavors as student scholarships and faculty support. Part of the success may be due to the rapport student callers establish with alumni.
Christie Reed, a UT Knoxville psychology major from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, says her conversations with alumni have increased her appreciation of the university.
“University of Tennessee alumni and students are the most loyal group of people in the country, and the Telefund is a prime example of that,” she says. “The relationships I’ve formed while working at the Telefund have been one of a kind, and the stories I’ve heard from alumni have made me proud to be graduating from the University of Tennessee.”
Another student caller, Leslie Jett, says hearing alumni stories—either about their time at UT or their accomplishments after graduation—has been an interesting part of the job. Jett, a hotel and tourism major from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, says her work has made her realize how important alumni are to the university. “I’ve learned that alumni support is essential to UT, and I’m proud to know I’m working with other students to make a difference.”
The Telefund started as a pilot effort in January 1985. Jada Williams (Knoxville ’92), Telefund director, says the program generated $46,000 from about 2,000 donors during that first year. By the 2008–09 academic year, the callers generated more than $1 million a year from 10,500 donors.
Telefund workers phone on behalf of all UT campuses and departments. All calls are made by UT Knoxville students, but the staff works closely with campus representatives from UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, and the UT Health Science Center.
“The Telefund callers can direct your gift or pledge of support to any UT campus, college, department, or program,” Williams said. The Telefund Program has kick-off nights when campus administrators and development staff visit the call center to thank the student callers for their efforts and to talk with them about campus events, highlights, and priorities.
Approximately 65 students are employed each semester at the Telefund. The best of the student callers can be promoted to training and student management positions in the program.
Juwan Hamilton of Memphis, a former Telefund “Employee of the Week,” is one of the students promoted to trainer. Hamilton, who majors in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, knows how vital alumni gifts are to students. “It’s important to give so the university can continue providing an excellent educational experience. Private gifts provide scholarships for students who might not be able to attend UT without financial assistance.
The calling program raises important resources for the university,” he says. “I was overjoyed to feel like I played an important role in that process.”