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I 2 Te MchganD.ly - er.eday.Nvemer 9, 00
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Taking abuse at
Telemarketingfor the 'U',
thin-skinned need not apply.
In about 2.6 million calls to
members of the Alumni Associa-
tion, more than a hundred student
workers at Michigan Telefund, the
fundraising program, help to col-
lect about $3 million in donations
Behind the impressive fund-
raising, though, is the reality of
telemarketing -assertively asking
for money coupled with frequent
"I hated being there," LSA
senior Matt Ford said. "Every min-
ute of it."
Ford said he originally thought
Telefund would be paying him
$9.25 an hour to do his homework
while waiting on hold.
Three months later, he quit.
Without calling in.
"It was easy, butI didn't feel like
asking people for money for four
hours at a time," Ford said.
Like Ford, many unassuming
Telefund employees quickly dis-
cover the hidden perils of what
managers call "polite persistence."
Dialing up registered alumni,
employees are required to take the
potential donor down a list of dona-
tions amounts called "the ladder."
If a non-regular donor says "no
thanks" to an initial request for
$250, he isn't off the hook. He'll
have to say no to $150, then $75,
and finally $25 dollars before the
Telefund employee is allowed to
end the call.
"You have to hang up on us for
that conversation to end," said
Surair Bashir, an LSA alum who
worked as a Telefund caller from
2004 to 2005.
And sometimes a hang-up is the
best you can hope for.
LSA junior Phillip Moll, who
currently works at Telefund, said
some of the alumni he calls use
him as a surrogate for the Univer-
sity, or unrelated problems, to vent
One older alum chastised Moll
and demanded his personal infor-
"He said that I was evil and
what I was doing was wrong," he
Another alum eventually
revealed to Moll that she had been
raped as a student, saying she
would not donate to the Univer-
sity because it "didn't do anything
about it for a couple of years."
Moll said he risked being writ-
ten-up by ending that call a little
"You get (awkward conver-
sations) every once in a while,"
he said. "It's really hard to get
through the call and try to find a
tactful way to move on."
In the past, Telefund would
reward employees that suck it up
and suffer the abuse. Long-time
employees got to call priors, or
alumni who have given most often
in the past and would likely be
happy to donate again.
Since a recent management
change, though, a walk-on is just
as likely as a seasoned veteran to
have a million-dollar day.
And all employees can be con-
fident that their calls are a part of
"A guy like Stephen M. Ross
doesn't wake up and say, 'I've got
too much money. I'm going to
donate millions of dollars to the
University of Michigan,"' said LSA
junior Mike Mikho, a manager and
trainer. "It's a trend, and we are
the people that start that trend."
According to Telefund Direc-
tor Jackie Aanes, 25 percent of
Michigan's annual donors give
their gifts through Telefund. Its
revenue pays for financial aid, tech-
nology upgrades, marching band
uniforms and billion-dollar Univer-
But some workers still feel that
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Telefund is a moral paradox.
"You're asking for money, espe-
cially in these times when economic
difficulty plays a large factor," Moll
said. "You have to ask for money
even if they have cancer, their
spouse just died ... it's somewhat
Bashir said she felt cruel "calling
people up who obviously don't have
"Some were like, 'how dare you
call me, I've given the University as
much money as possible,"' she said.
Mikho said managers can use
their discretion to make exceptions
for alumni who aren't in a position
to be pressured.
"Our number one goal is to sat-
isfy our alumni," he said. "If we
speak to an alumni that has fallen
on hard times, has an illness in the
family or something like that, then
of course, we'll just wish them the
best and let them go."
Telefund Manager ChrisPigeon,
an Engineering junior, said the
positive impact of Telefund out-
weighs the negative.
"If they're saying bad things
about Telefund, they don't under-
stand the importance of what we
do here," Pigeon said.
Managers randomly monitor
the fundraising calls, advising new
workers and warning those who
talk too fast or don't exhaust the
full ladder. Employees who buckle
under the social anxiety and flake
on the sales pitch don't last long.
"At the end of the day, it is a job.
Truth be told, it's not for some peo-
ple," Mikho said. "There are some
people that get there and immedi-
ately recognize it's not for them,
and there are other people that get
there and excel at it immediately."
Mikho said employee turnover
isn't exceptionally high for a work-
study job. A lot of students, he said,
see their Telefund job as a resume
"The experience that you gain
there is tremendous," he said. "It's
huge to walk in after college and
put, 'I raised $80,000 for U of M.'
I've seen a caller raise $30,000
in one day - to me, that's huge. I
would rather be doing that than
taking somebody's order at a res-
taurant or selling somebody a
T-shirt at a store."
Moll said that some alumni
are pleasant and conversational,
sometimes offering student callers
an internship or a position at their
"As a pre-dental student I was
offered just last night the chance to
come by an alum's dental practice
in Grand Rapids as his sons, who
are also dentists at the practice, are
looking to bring in new members,"
he said in an e-mail interview.
While Telefund may have its
perks, a new caller should walk in
with a thick skin, or be prepared to
develop one quickly.
"It was fun workingthere, but in
the end, telemarketing is a shitty
job," Bashir said.
Bashir said that the laid-back
atmosphere and comradery among
callers helped to get her through
"It's not, 'Hey look at me, I work
for Michigan Telefund,"' she said,
referring to her membership to a
Facebook group about Telefund.
"It's like, 'Look, I survived the
-SARA LYNNE THELEN
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