I am not a telemarketer. I know because that’s the first thing it said in my training guide. The approved title is “fundraiser.”
I call parents and alumni and chat them up about “all the amazing things happening at Temple,” in hopes of convincing them to make a generous donation to the school, department or program of their choice.
Temple Telefund students raise more than $1 million for the university each year. Yet, tucked away inside a depressing office in the University Services Building, we’re basically like a secret society of students getting paid to do Temple’s dirty work.
Sure, we help provide students with updated equipment and facilities, scholarships and important opportunities to enhance their education, but it’s not just your typical good-natured fundraiser – it’s business.
We call hundreds, maybe thousands, of people a night, most of whom are very unpleasant and aren’t very fond of Temple. Regardless, callers are pressured to turn “prospects” into “givers” by feeding them whatever information Temple’s public relations department has spewed out for us, ignoring their objections three times and insisting twice that they donate on a credit card.
And if our stats are consistently too low, we’re terminated or put on probation, like I currently am.
Even if prospects tells us they’ve just lost their job, been diagnosed with cancer or been affected by a natural disaster, we’re still obligated to call with the same persistence and pep.
I can ask once, maybe even twice, but after that, it just becomes begging, and there’s really no polite way to beg for money, especially not when your first ask is for “a leadership gift of $150,” then “a more modest gift of $75” and finally “a gift of $55.”
Having worked at Telefund for two years up until this summer, Casey Gleason, a junior metals and jewelry major at the Tyler School of Art, understands its flaws better than most.
“I don’t think it’s a bad way to raise money,” Gleason said. “But the whole method is really idealistic.”
Despite it being one of the highest paying jobs on campus, it’s also perhaps the most mind-numbing, spirit-killing job on campus, if not in the entire tri-state area.
While we can meet the quota and get around the occasional moral dilemma, the verbal abuse we get from prospects is unavoidable.
Calling parents of current and former students and alumni anywhere from the Class of 1930 to 2008, we hear what they really think about Temple.
I’ve heard everything from a mother refer only to Temple as “the ghetto” and say she wouldn’t send her dog here, to an alumna in her 90s donate $5 simply because she valued her Temple education so much.
I’ve also had an alumnus try to recruit me for a job, a mother try to get me to move in with her daughter, and an alumna refuse to make a donation because she didn’t like how many Starbucks coffee shops Temple has.
Parents often mistake us for college gurus, drilling callers about scholarships, academic advising and their child’s grades. For the record, we have no clue about any of it. Older alumni, on the other hand, seem to think we’re therapists. They love talking to us ad nauseam about their grandchildren and medical problems, while recent grads usually just complain about not being able to find a job.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but take some pride in knowing that I’ve single-handedly raised several thousands of dollars for Temple, even if I’ve never gotten a thank-you letter from President Ann Weaver Hart or directly pocketed any of the fruits of my labor.
But it is all for a good cause and ultimately, Telefund does have Temple’s best interests at heart.
So one day when you see your alma mater on your caller ID, and you will, remember it’s probably just a poor student on the other end who really wants to get commission this month. Make a small donation if possible.
Or at least have the decency not to answer your phone.
Nicole Finkbiner can be reached at email@example.com.