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Red & Black Society member Megan Lesko '06 talks to alumni while raising funds for the Wesleyan Annual Fund for Excellence. Pictured below is Allie Joe, '05 and Joshua Atwood '08. Lesko and Joe are both student managers for the society.
Posted 12.02.05

Student Society Key Player for Wesleyan's Excellence

Emily Frost ’06 knows it takes courage to call and speak with strangers. As a member of Wesleyan’s Red & Black Society, she is learning how to transform what could be an awkward conversation into a more meaningful exchange.

Frost is among 60 Red & Black Society members who call alumni and parents requesting gifts to Wesleyan through the Wesleyan Annual Fund for Excellence (WAFE), which defrays costs not covered by tuition and income from the university’s endowment. This year, students will help Wesleyan to meet critical goals of $12 million in current-use money. Along with student calling, personal solicitations by University Relations staff members, volunteer solicitations from phonathons, homes and offices and mailings round out Wesleyan’s fundraising efforts.

Students’ tuition and fees cover approximately 70 percent of the actual cost of educating each student. The Wesleyan Annual Fund for Excellence supports financial aid, faculty salaries, campus improvements, library resources, the arts, athletics and technology.

“Fundraising really improves one's ability to communicate and relate to many different individuals,” Frost says. “The Red & Black Society provides an excellent opportunity for me to make connections with past Wesleyan students and learn from them.”

Regan Schubel ‘01, assistant director of the Annual Fund, says about 200 students apply and are trained to be Red & Black callers every year. Selected students undergo 10 hours of intensive training before making any calls to alumni or parents.

Most calls, Schubel says, average 10 minutes. First, students update alumni contact information, then spend a few minutes talking about campus, new buildings, projects and programs, and educating alumni about recent Wesleyan events. The callers answer alumni questions and often discuss issues related to life after Wesleyan, or Wesleyan memories. The student explains the benefits of giving and requests a gift or pledge at the end of the conversation.

The Red & Black callers work the entire fiscal year, from the start of fall semester until June 30. During the 2004-05 academic year, Red & Black callers raised $513,511 from 6,094 alumni and parent donors.

“Students are excited about communicating with alumni, and the alumni enjoy sharing their Wesleyan memories with the students,” Schubel says. “It’s a mutually beneficial situation.”

Mosah Fernandez-Goodman ’04, associate director of the Annual Fund, spent three years as a student caller before becoming the program’s manager after graduating. He recommends that students interested in sales, business or fundraising join the society.

“We use a real-world networking approach, and students gain valuable experience by working here,” Fernandez-Goodman says. “It’s a good job to have while they’re in college.”

Frost, who plans to pursue broadcast journalism after graduating, says the experience has taught her how to speak more eloquently in conversations. She also enjoys chatting with alumni, and learning about their career paths and other post-Wesleyan experiences.

“Alumni are friendly, have interesting personalities, and most share my love for Wesleyan,” Frost says. “I can always find a way to relate to alumni. I like speaking with recent alumni the best, because I seek their advice on the transition from Wesleyan.”

The students, who come from many states and several countries, work two to three evening sessions, Sunday through Thursday, each week. For their work, students earn an hourly wage and bonuses, along with pizza and snacks. Making a connection is the most difficult part about calling alumni and parents. Some nights, a student may dial 300 numbers without one answer. Other nights, they may reach 15 alumni or parents and receive gifts from each. The record number of gifts solicited by a single caller in one night is 30, and 125 in one night as a program, Fernandez-Goodman says.

“We want the alumni to know that the students will be calling and to please answer their phones,” Fernandez-Goodman says.

The Red & Black students make calls from the WAFE office on Mt. Vernon Street.

Any student interested in becoming a Red & Black Society member should contact Regan Schubel ‘01 at 860-685-2253 or e-mail rschubel@wesleyan.edu.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, Wesleyan Connection editor