Type to search

Features Relays Edition

Cold calling turned into a passion

Photo by Taylor Soule, photo editor

Scott Kaufmann stood at the front of a room full of computers and phones in the Kinne Center at Drake University.

“What’s up Phonathon?” Kaufmann said, welcoming Phonathon callers for the night.

Before beginning the shift, Kaufmann went over what has been going well and gave suggestions to making calls better.

“Ask if you have any questions,” Kaufmann said. “I live and die to help you guys become better callers.”

Kaufmann, 21, is a junior health sciences major from Olympia Fields, Ill. He is one of six student supervisors at Phonathon, a group of students who call alumni to establish connections through conversations about the alum’s Drake experience.

While the goal is to receive a monetary gift from the alumni, Kaufmann said that conversations and keeping them connected to Drake is a big part of Phonathon.

“Even though Phonathon gifts are not the bulk of the money given to Drake, Phonathon is where that begins,” Kaufmann said. “It’s kind of the foundation for establishing a relationship with alumni after they leave Drake.”

Kaufmann is in his third semester as a student supervisor, a job he enjoys.

“Being a supervisor is honestly one of the best jobs I could possibly imagine,” Kaufmann said. “I like keeping the energy high, but I also want to minimize the learning curve.”

Besides Phonathon, Kaufmann has a radio show on 94.1 The Dog, participates in Curling Club and is on the Pharmacy and Health Sciences Day committee.

As supervisor, Kaufmann sets up the room before calling begins. He leads a pre-shift meeting, verifies gifts and answers callers’ questions during the three-hour calling periods.

Assistant Director of Annual Fund Programs Brenna Stoffa oversees Phonathon. Stoffa came to Drake last spring and has worked with Kaufmann over the last year.

“Scott brings a lot of laughter, energy and overall a positive attitude (to phonathon),” Stoffa said. “He represents the university well, which is really important in his position.”

Kaufmann’s passion for Phonathon began fall of his freshman year. He started working because he needed a job.

“I didn’t love talking to people on the phone,” Kaufmann said, “but I did enjoy the conversations and learning about the experiences people have had.”

After getting the hang of it, Kaufmann started enjoying Phonathon more. Like all callers, he asked alumni about their Drake experience and what they enjoyed most. A common conversation starter is to ask what the alum has done with his or her degree and which professors were favorites.

“It really became something I looked forward to going to, and I absolutely mean that,” Kaufmann said.

“Once I had the option of becoming a supervisor, I applied right away because I wanted to do my best to make sure callers had the same experience.”

However, Kaufmann’s first Phonathon experiences were nothing like they are today.

“I make no qualms about the fact that I was a bad caller,” Kaufmann said, laughing. “Really for the first year, I was not good.”

After a while, Kaufmann became successful conversing and receiving pledges. His best call was with a woman who attended Drake during the civil rights movement.

“She talked about all of the civil rights things she was involved in and where things took place,” Kaufmann said. “The fact that they were places I’ve been was such a mind-blowing thing — that that sort of stuff was happening here.”

While Kaufmann received a gift from the call, it is the conversation he remembers.

“I was ecstatic for the gift, but even more so because I heard how connected she was with Drake and how much she loved her experience,” Kaufmann said. “That really made me proud to be here.”

With every good call comes at least one bad, but Kaufmann does not let angry alumni get to him.

“We’re taught, and as a supervisor, we teach, not to take anything personally because it’s not you they’re upset about,” Kaufmann said. “But bad calls are outweighed by the good ones. Those, I think, are underrated. They are really, really fun.”

The bad calls and waiting long periods of time for someone to answer make motivation necessary to keep callers interested.

“The idea to call people and ask for money sounds hard,” Kaufmann said, “but we do our best to equip callers with the best strategies to make it easier. We’re seeing more people stay with Phonathon, so I think it’s working.”

Phonathon has high turnover but is doing a better job keeping callers this year. Stoffa believes Kaufmann contributes to the atmosphere and has improved caller attitudes and retention.

“Scott is very high-energy and makes work a fun place to be,” Stoffa said. “I think he underestimates the impact he has on others.”

Callers enjoy Kaufmann’s efforts, too.

“I didn’t hear the best things (about Phonathon) before I started,” said sophomore computer science major Chris Siegel, who joined Phonathon this spring, “but I kind of enjoy it now.”

Kaufmann wants to attend graduate school and do lab work for a drug company or the government after graduation. While fundraising is not one of Kaufmann’s post-graduate plans, Phonathon is one of his favorite things at Drake.

“What I like best is knowing that I’m an important part of making sure Drake University is the best it can be,” Kaufmann said. “Phonathon isn’t just a job. It’s something that makes me proud to be going to the school I’m going to.”

Skip to content