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Profiles in Giving

Who's Calling Me?

Meet the talented talkers from Tufts Telefund

What is helping Cassandre Barthelemy, A12, get noticed by prospective employers as she prepares to graduate from Tufts? Her people skills, gained from her time spent as a student caller for the Tufts Telefund.

"When I've interviewed for jobs, they don't care about my GPA or my major," Barthelemy says. "They say, ‘You've worked in a call center? And you talk with people? Great!' It shows that I can roll with the punches and navigate people. Being able to hold a conversation, to turn a script into a conversation—that makes a huge difference to these companies."

Barthelemy, a premed, anthropology major, says she also had no reservations about asking for support; she's an extrovert by nature. The oldest of three girls, she says she's "pretty bossy" around the house, adding with a laugh, "But it's all for a good cause!"

It also makes a huge difference to Tufts. Over the past four years, Barthelemy and two other students—Isaac Munro, A12, and Chris Fountaine, AG12—have achieved significant pledges on behalf of the university.

"All of three of these students are always adapting and changing their techniques to improve their results," call center director Daniel Burgner says. "I have been very impressed with their ability to keep every phone call unique and exciting for the prospective donors. A truly amazing student fundraiser is able to combine their experience as a current student with an in-depth knowledge of Tufts past and present. They have to present everything about Tufts in an appealing and attractive way for prospective donors. This is a very difficult balance to find and all three of these students have it."

Rob Sanderson, associate director in prospect management and annual giving strategy, agrees that these persuasive and focused students are invaluable fundraisers. "Student callers bring a unique perspective to our donors," he says. "They are living the Tufts experience. Who is better equipped to speak about the benefits of philanthropy than the direct beneficiaries? In addition to their great work on the phones, many callers have also helped contribute to building a culture of philanthropy on campus by volunteering with the Tufts Student Fund. Finally, great student callers usually make great alumni volunteers. They get it. They bought in. And they have the skills needed to excel both at Tufts and beyond."

Fountaine, from Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a graduate student in mathematics. He attributes his long and productive track record to a combination of skills.

"I would say you need to know when to be calm and when to be excited," he says. "It's essential to have good listening skills and very important to be inquisitive, optimistic, and results-driven."

Building that rapport, he adds, was always fun. "I've always enjoyed hearing how people feel about certain experiences and their memories."

Munro, a graduate of the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts, came to Tufts for international relations. He had worked the phones before for his high school and felt comfortable making cold calls.

But he says he was hardly outgoing; more often than not he was content to stand back and observe. "I grew up the third of four siblings; I was definitely not the leader of the show," he says. "My family has a joke—whenever we'd go anywhere they'd ask: 'Has anyone seen Isaac?' And I'm standing right there."

One essential characteristic that the students have in common is the ability to listen attentively and with an empathetic ear.

"People love to talk about themselves. I engage people: ‘What do you think about this Obamacare?'" says Barthelemy. "And then when you ask them to give, it's not a big deal. So being gregarious, and getting them to talk, that's what helps a lot."

And if someone just wants to get off the phone in a hurry? "You can tell," says Munro, "so you adjust. If you hear a baby crying in the background, you might say; ‘I can tell that you've got your hands full, I'll make this quick…’"

And then there are those phone calls that generate real interest in Tufts and that may influence engagement well beyond a single pledge.

"We know that a lot of people look forward to the phone call, which is one of my motivations to keep doing it," says Munro. "There are people who are like: ‘Oh! You're calling from Tufts! What's your major? Where did you live?’ And they want to talk about where they lived and their own experience. They ask about professors. They really get to know you. By the end of the phone call they have something concrete and positive to remember. They know they've talked with Isaac from Pittsburgh."

Fountaine is also impressed by the personal conversations he's had with total strangers. "What I like best about the job," he says, "is discovering how resilient people can be through open, curious, and courageous communication."

That two-way communication can also deepen self-confidence; it's a boot camp, of sorts, for social finesse. Consider Munro, who not only rose to the rank of supervisor at the call center, but also signed on with the Student Ambassador Program in University Advancement, where he met face-to-face with potential donors to rekindle their connections with Tufts.

"Tufts has given me so many opportunities to be a leader," he says.

Fountaine says it's not difficult to ask for support for a university that has given him so much. "Tufts was wonderful. I've grown more in three years being here than during four at college."

His people skills, he adds, "are highly valued in the job market right now and Telefund has been an amazing place to develop such important skills. I know for a fact that I was hired into the technology industry not because of my math background but mainly because of my student calling experience."