• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Is Now a Good Time?

Thoughts on alumni fundraising calls from the perspective of a graduate student.

October 3, 2018

Patrick Bigsby is an alumnus, former employee, and lifelong wrestling fan of the University of Iowa. Sometimes, he tweets.


PAT: (into phone) Hello?

V.O.: (over phone, filtered) Good evening Mr. Bigsby! My name is Steven and I’m a student at University of Your Degree and I’m calling on behalf of UYD to reach out to all of our great alumni! How are you tonight?

PAT: “Ok, but-”

V.O: “Great! While I’ve got you here, let me double-check your contact info: do you still live in a state so remote that UYD doesn’t even have an alumni chapter there?”

PAT sighs deeply.

V.O.: “Great! And what do you do for a job?”

PAT pauses to contemplate degree of flippancy to exhibit.

V.O.: “Great! Knowing you have a job means I have the perfect segue to my next question: what’s your cash on hand? More importantly, how much of it can UYD have?”


Does any of that sound familiar? Some of you might be a few years away from acting out that scene but, upon graduation, you’ll soon get your first chance to “Yes, and…” your way through what those of us who worked in our university’s call centers know as The Four Asks. I say this will happen upon graduation because, as every telefundraiser has been taught, recent grads are soft touches. They have the freshest memories of their favorite spots on campus, their friends and mentors therein, and a little boost of pride that comes from just having had that degree conferred. Hopefully the recent grads’ rosy memories of UYD generate a little monetary goodwill toward their alma mater because capital campaigns rely on donors starting a tradition of giving.

So,GradHackers, can you spare a dime? I’m kidding, of course. Everyone knows your first ask on a cold call should be $250.00.

As a caller, I viewed graduate program alumni as a peculiar breed of prospective donor, subject to a unique duality. Many graduate students enjoyed some form of financial support from their university, be it in the form of an assistantship or otherwise. So don’t be surprised when the sophomore on the other end of the line brings up how lucky you were to enjoy the support of UYD in pursuing your education and, hint hint, wouldn’t you like to help continue that tradition for the next batch of grad students? Guilt is a powerful fundraising tool.

On the other hand, the nature of graduate work invites a certain single-mindedness and, despite my brilliant advice, graduate students tend to be less conscious of campus-wide life and traditions than their undergrad counterparts. Asking for a little seed money to re-sod The Quad was less fruitful when prospective donors couldn’t locate The Quad, much less happily recall the time they ditched class to frolic on it. Since becoming a grad alum and being on the receiving end of fundraising calls, that duality has only deepened.

Only you can say where you fall on the spectrum between feeling indebted to or indifferent toward your institution, and I don’t intend to turn this into a commercial for university foundations. The schools do that well enough themselves. But giving has a residual benefit for grad alumni: contributing toward the perceived value of their degrees. This can be literal, in that schools and programs with more money can improve themselves in tangible, previously unaffordable ways. But, more relevant to the average small-scale donor, the effect goes beyond sheer buying power. Charitable giving, measured both by gross donations and the percentage of alumni who give, indicates the sort of engaged, loyal alumni base rewarded by national ranking organizations. Whatever you think of school rankings, your diploma appreciates in value when the perception of the institution whose name is on it improves.

For this reason, I wouldn’t rule out lighting up the shift of the work study student assigned to interrupt your dinner and becoming a donor - someday. My advice for that first post-graduation call, however, would be to politely decline. As I described, recent grads are awash with warm feelings: pride, confidence, excitement, and general positivity toward their school. That charged emotional state is no time to be making a financial commitment, even if it’s just $25.00 and not $250.00. In light of a hit-or-miss job market, frugality is a recent grad’s best friend.

Plus, there’s more than one way for grad alums to express their charitable bents. If a few months go by and you find you’re still feeling flush and generous after the post-graduation glow has worn off, then evaluate whether you think that donation is a good investment in the continued value of your degree. Your money will be just as green and the future GradHacker calling you will be just as excited to receive it.

Can you envision yourself donating to your university after graduation? Have you already done so? Let us know why or why not in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user Jrwooley6 and used under a Creative Commons license.]


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top