Each year, the university runs telephone fundraising campaigns. These form a vital part of our philanthropic efforts to enhance our students’ experience. The Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement Department recruits and trains current students to work on these campaigns: this helps them support themselves through their studies, provides them with an insight into how awards and bursaries are funded, and provides our alumni recipients with an authentic calling experience. The campaigns are organised by Regular Giving Officer and Brighton alumna, Claire Kidd (Globalisation; History, Politics, Cultures BA(Hons) 2013).
“I knew the University of Brighton had grants to support students who face unexpected financial crises, but I didn’t know about what happened in the background. I’ve been finding out since joining the Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement Office as a student telephone fundraiser.
“As a student telephone fundraiser, I contact former students (alumni) to find out how they are doing since graduating and update them on life at the university. I am part of a team of 20 students whose diverse background enriches the group: the different courses we study, the campuses at which we’re based, our ages, life trajectories, nationalities, dreams and ambitions – it all helps to form an excellent and vibrant group dynamic.
“We have a very positive working atmosphere. The team gels because we believe in what we are doing: we are all trying our best to help our fellow students and engage with the alumni.
“The job is challenging but rewarding. There are people who have been through quite a lot to try to make it in life. This job exposes us to some harsh realities we’re all facing, in particular, those students who we’re trying to support.
“For example, I became aware of a student whose laptop was smashed by a collapsed ceiling during assignment season. She had all her work in her laptop and no money to get a new one. It is this kind of situation that we are raising money for: to help students achieve their goals, finish university with a qualification and prevent them from dropping out because of unexpected bills. That’s the worst case scenario – no qualification but still with a huge student loan to pay. Unfortunately, there are students facing this situation.
“You get to hear some great anecdotes from alumni when you talk to them. There have been good, bad, ugly and beautiful moments, like all the wonderful memories everyone has of their time at our university: the friendships made, the (now) funny stories about last-minute assignment stress and the end of exam season parties. I see how our alumni, some even years after graduating, still hold fond memories and value the time they spent here.
“We normally do three shifts a week – one of those on a Saturday. We start with a 15-minute briefing where our manager provides feedback on our performance and gives us updates. It is also an opportunity to go over any issues we might have or just to celebrate the caller of the week.
“These briefings help us build bonds, relax and make sure we are all on the same page. They also remind us why we are doing this; why we are calling our former students and why it is important to raise funds in support of students.
“The University of Brighton prides itself on maintaining good relations with former students – our ambassadors for life. It is great to get feedback from them: they tell us what went well, so we can carry on doing it and what didn’t, so we know what needs to be improved.
“Thanks to the telephone campaign, we’ve been able to recruit alumni who kindly volunteered to come back to speak with current students; to provide priceless insights about life after graduation; advise what opportunities are available and what kind of barriers they had to overcome. The contact with alumni helps to strengthen the bond with the university and its community as well as helping the university to better prepare students for life after graduation.
“We also want to raise awareness about life at the university today and what current students are going through. More students than ever before are facing financial hardship throughout their studies and it is really important that our university provides support to students, when they need it the most. The Alumni and Friends fund, for which I raise money, is absolutely vital in making sure our students have that support.
“However, I also know that it isn’t always possible to give back financially. I recently spoke with a single mother of a young child who finished her undergraduate degree with a first and now is doing a full-time masters course but is struggling to make ends meet. She can’t take a job in the evening because she has a small child to look after but without the funds she won’t be able to finish her course.
“As a student I know how hard it is to get a first, let alone whilst raising a small child. A student with a brilliant ability and work ethic is at risk of dropping out due to personal circumstances and if she does, the university will be poorer, the labour market will be poorer and society will be poorer because if she can´t reach her full potential, we won´t benefit from it either. It’s when I speak with people like this I understand how every single penny really does make a difference.
“Sometimes the job can be frustrating. I can waste time reaching out-of-service dial tones because graduates haven’t updated their contact details. I must have memorised every standard answerphone message because people don’t answer the phone and of course we call during the evening so people aren’t always able to talk when we call. We don’t want to interrupt people’s lives and we are never pushy, but we do persevere because it is for a good cause after all.
“So far the campaign has been really successful and our team is well on the way to raising £50,000 which would be a great achievement for us. We only have two weeks left so if you do get a call from us it would be great if you could spare a couple of minutes of your time. The best part of my job really is speaking to our graduates and hearing stories of their time at the university.”