In an isolated, windowless room of the Student Center’s basement, SIU students are raising money for the university almost year-round.
The SIU Foundation, which was established in 1942 to solicit gifts and donations from private sources for the university, uses the gifts for educational purposes such as scholarships, according to the foundation’s website.
Annually, the foundation brings in a value of about $20 million in donations each year, while the student callers bring in between $550 thousand and $750 thousand of the total, said Jeff Lorber, executive director of development for the SIU Foundation.
With more than 70 student callers per semester, the student workers make phone calls to SIU alumni and friends to keep a friendly relationship and seek donations.
Lorber said it’s important to have a good interaction with the potential donors, because even if they say no, they might still decide to donate in the future.
“It’s important the person who was called by our students feels respected, like the student was interested and he generally wants to know about the experience that the alum or donor has had with SIU in their lives,” he said.
Melanie Bloden, a junior from Skokie studying hospitality and tourism, said the student callers are often the only contact donors have with the university.
“It really means a lot to the alumni when we call them and ask about their lives,” she said. “We get to make a difference in that case on a personal level.”
Student callers are put through training for several hours before they even make their first call, Lorber said.
Eric Caldwell, a senior from Pawnee studying psychology, said callers are given a script, but the ultimate goal is not to use it.
“We want it to be like a conversation,” he said.
As a student supervisor for the group, Caldwell is a caller himself. He joined the staff as a sophomore and has since raised more than $76,000 for the university. His ultimate goal, Caldwell said, is to raise $100,000 for SIU by the time he graduates, which would make him one of only 10 student callers in SIU history to raise that amount.
His job with the SIU Foundation has given Caldwell a new outlook on what he wants for his career, he said.
“I started out in psychology and now I’m minoring in marketing because of the fact that I can put this on my resume and use my boss as a reference,” Caldwell said.
Lorber said the job will help students in their future careers.
“What I’d like to think that we do is provide valuable skills that these students can pick up relative to communication skills and negotiating skills in terms of asking for gifts,” he said.
Caldwell said he thinks it’s the perfect job for a student because the hours are flexible and students don’t work on weekends.
J.D. Vandenberg, a freshman from Pawnee studying biological sciences, said he likes the job so much he hopes to keep it until he graduates.
“I really like helping the university raise money … and I’m kind of making a difference,” he said. “I’m actually making the university better.”
Vandenberg said he likes to hear stories from alumni about their experiences at SIU, while Caldwell said he enjoys asking potential donors if they’ve been back to campus lately.
Most donors give between $25 and $1,000, Lorber said, but if a strong relationship is built, they could donate even more in the future. He said research indicates the people who donate the most over time are the ones who start making their first donations within five years after graduation.
Donors may choose where their gift is designated, and usually it goes to the college they graduated from, Lorber said. They can give it as a general gift, where a budget officer such as the college’s dean may disperse the money as he or she sees fit. They may also request the money be given to a specific project or research on campus. Some non-traditional academic units that receive donations include the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and Morris Library. Lorber said the foundation also asks for donations on behalf of African-American and Hispanic scholarships. Donors could even gift equipment to colleges, he said, such as a license for a limited-time software.
The foundation needs funding, too, though.
“It costs a little money to raise money,” Lorber said.
Sometimes student workers call alumni in order to raise money for the foundation and much of the money is geared to helping the organization raise additional funds, he said. Lorber said the money is, in turn, given back to the university for scholarships and other purposes.
Lorber said one of the most rewarding things about the student jobs is the friendships that occur between the workers.
“I think in essence you sort of become friends with people you might have otherwise not become friends with, because they might be dramatically different than you are,” he said.
Caldwell said if it weren’t for the great environment at the workplace, he’s not sure he would still be working for the SIU Foundation.
“It seems like everyone’s friends,” he said. “It’s always a joking environment and a pleasant environment to be in, even on monotonous nights.”
Chancellor Rita Cheng said at a time when the university faces budget issues, the student callers are important to the university.
“We rely on that so much and the students’ help, and I think it’s wonderful,” she said.
Bloden said the job is much more rewarding than she thought it would be.
“It’s so cool to walk here on campus and be able to say, ‘Wow, I was able to raise money for the resources in the library that I’m using right now,” she said.