In a narrow room at Welty Hall, on the campus of The Mississippi University for Women, there is a small telemarketing station.
Like most universities, MUW calls its alumni and asks for donations and gifts. Unlike most people who call and ask for donations, the telefund callers at MUW feel a real connection with the person at the other end of the line.
“The biggest misconception is we get is people thinking we’re telemarketer,” Macy Robertson said.
Robertson and Jitoria Jones are telefund ambassadors on the behalf of MUW, and both 21-year-old seniors say they have the best job on campus.
They are two of 11 telefund ambassadors at MUW who work under director of annual giving Brandy Williams. They raise money, check up on alums, share memories, tell how campus has changed, make friends and heed advice.
“We want to know updates — what they’re doing with their lives,” Williams said. “Have they been married? Do they have kids?”
MUW organizes their alumni into calling pools based on age and recent giving history, Williams said. They don’t ask their most recent graduates to make gifts, they just ask them how they’re doing. Repeat donors are contacted first. The money raised by the telefund ambassadors goes to the “W fund,” which pays for the most urgent needs of the school.
“I think that’s good for us, because every year we have new callers, so it’s good for us to start out with someone who we know will make a gift,” Jones said.
The telefund ambassadors compete amongst themselves to see who can reel in the most gifts in a given night.
For the older alumni who are being asked to donate, there is often a sense of plugging them back into The W and Columbus.
“Most of the time, we’re the only people from The W they talk to,” Robertson said.
Jones and Robertson said their phone conversations have a tendency to go beyond the simple, “Hi, how are you? Do you have any interest in making a gift to the university?” Both said they have been on the phone for well over an hour. And when alumni come back to campus for events, both have put faces to voices for some of their favorite calls.
“I’ve had an hour and fifteen minute conversation with somebody,” Robertson said. “We were talking about grandbabies, we were talking about where their kids were thinking about going to college. We talked about everything.”
That conversation took a long time because Robertson, a Spanish major, had been speaking with The W’s first ever Spanish major.
The telefund ambassadors are given a script to work off, but Jones and Robertson have been doing the job long enough that they are comfortable freestyling.
“You want to engage the conversation, because you learn so much,” Jones said. “You learn everything they’ve done at The W and why they love it so much. And it gives you that passion to say, I love it, too.”
Williams and director of major gifts and special events Angela Ferraez wanted alumni to know who was calling them. So on Facebook, they began to put up photos and bios of their telefund ambassadors.
“We wanted to show everyone how talented and lovely the girls calling them were,” Ferraez said. “I think they are absolutely crucial to what we do.”
Jones recalled meeting a woman at Homecoming who she had spoken to at work, and picking up right where their conversation left off.
“The conversation lasted so long when we were on the phone, it was like we just knew each other,” Jones said. ‘When I met her, she was like, ‘I know your face,’ and she told me what we talked about it and it was like we were best friends.”
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