Dragon Caller position turns students into fundraisers

After a slump during the economic crisis of 2008-09, the MSUM Alumni Foundation is seeing increases in donations. In his report for the 2012 fiscal year, Corey Elmer, president of the foundation, reported that total assets grew by more than $3.4 million.

That money is benefitting the university, with 76 percent of the Alumni Foundation’s assets being invested in student scholarships.

“We fundraise primarily for scholarships, but also academic program support; a variety of different things,” said Anna Miller, Director of Annual Giving, “A lot of funding will go to a specific department or just general scholarship funds.”

Much of this funding comes directly from MSUM alumni as they give back to current students who are following in their footsteps. When gathering donations, the Alumni Foundation utilizes students through their Dragon Caller program.

“Alumni are very interested in new things on campus, like renovations or new resources,” says Ashley Aurdahl, a former Dragon Caller who now works as a student supervisor. “They like sharing their experiences with my callers and, the callers like getting advice from them.”

Students who work for the Dragon Caller program are in direct contact with MSUM alumni. They work both to maintain the relationships between graduates and the university and collect donations.

“It’s kind of a unique job,” said Miller. “The alums enjoy the conversation, but the students really get a lot out of it. The nice thing about the Dragon Caller position is that it’s some actual skill building that you’ll use in your career… this job will teach you to overcome objections and strengthen your negotiating skills.”

“Alumni offer great advice to us as student,” Aurdahl agrees, adding, “many students ask for advice and some have even made some connections that could help them after school.”

However, some recent grads struggle with being asked to donate so soon after leaving MSUM. While dealing with first jobs and paying back student loans, they often don’t have the means to donate to their alma mater.

“I feel like it’s a waste of time to call new graduates. We’re still getting on our feet and trying to figure out how the real world works now with loan payments and such,” said Danielle Krolak, a 2013 graduate.

“I think the Alumni Foundation should start asking new alumni for money one year after they have graduated and not before then,” adds Justin McDowell, another 2013 MSUM grad, though he says he would consider donating in the future, “I want to give back to MSUM since MSUM has given a lot to me.”

Asking for donations is not all the Alumni Foundation is interested in, and both Miller and Aurdahl say the attitude from the alumni they contact is generally positive. There are differences in the way calls are received depending on the length of time alumni have been out of school, and the callers try to adapt to that.

“We are not just calling to ask for donations,” says Aurdahl. “When talking to recent grads, it’s easier to talk about things like how they transitioned to life after school. When talking to older graduates, it’s easier to talk about new things on or about campus. Callers have to be aware of who they are calling and adjust to that.”

Whether through asking for donations or building relationships with alumni, the Dragon Caller program offers unique experience for students. Currently staffed with around 18 student workers, Miller says they are always looking for more.

“We run shifts Sunday afternoons and Sunday through Thursday evenings,” she says, adding that they are flexible to accommodate the schedules of busy students.

Interested students can contact the foundation to learn more about applying.

BY KRISTEN MILLER
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