In downtown Lethbridge, on the second floor of the University of Lethbridge’s Dr. Foster James Penny Building, you’ll find a team of students, donning headsets, armed with stamina and ready to dial the numbers of U of L alumni and donors.
This team of 28-callers is a representation of the University itself; each with varying backgrounds, diverse majors and unique motivations, but bringing a shared passion for the U of L with a goal to raise support for the institution.
Unlike what you’d expect to see in a call centre, there is a unique buzz and energy as the students engage in conversation, asking alumni what they remember from their years studying or if they have any words of advice they’d like to offer. In turn, details around exciting campus projects and initiatives are shared.
Depending on who has been called, students will often also explain how crucial donor gifts are for the ongoing efforts of the University and ask for support. For Ryan Parks, one student caller, it’s a personal question that is rooted in gratitude.
“I have been really lucky to receive a lot of support through scholarships. I feel like it has less do with what I’ve done, but rather what other people were willing to do for me by giving,” he says. “There are so many financial stressors and other stressors going on in life, and I’m sure those are still there when you graduate and possibly even more, but at a time when you’re trying to find yourself and get on your own two feet, it’s really helpful to not have to worry as much about money. I really can’t express how much that support means; I say thank you a lot.”
Nearing completion for the semester, the student team has made calls to 20,000 alumni, raising more than $57,000 in gifts and pledges. While that alone is an impressive outcome, the numbers tell only part of the success story.
“The students are having a lot of great conversations with alumni. The value goes well beyond the dollars raised,” explains Kathy MacFarlane, manager of development programs at the U of L. “ We are very pleased with the gifts we are getting and equally important the connections we are making with alumni.”
Rhys Hakstol, another student caller, recalls when he first recognized this aspect of his role.
“I had a conversation during my second shift where I talked to a guy for 45 minutes. He told me all about his life – he was a cancer survivor and was going back for his third degree at the U of L and was deeply connected to the University,” recalls Hakstol. “At the end of the call, I asked him if he’d like to make a donation. Because of his medical bills he wasn’t able to, but that’s when I understood that we’re not here to just get money, we’re here to listen and talk to people, too."
Hakstol will cross the stage at convocation this spring with a bachelor of sciences degree, and jokes about how he’s looking forward to hassling the student callers on the other end of the line next year. But with all kidding aside, he’s already given thought to how his role will change as he moves from being a student to a member of the U of L’s more than 37,000 alumni worldwide.
“I won’t directly see the ramifications of the donations we’ve received, but I think ultimately building a better university is good for southern Alberta as a whole and helps make our school one we can all be proud of,” he says. “When alumni show their support, it’s a vote of confidence in what the University is doing. It’s cool to be playing a part in helping projects go forward that will benefit future generations of students.”