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Making all the right calls

Catching up with McGill Student Phonathon supervisor Alexander Carey

McGill Student Phonathon supervisor Alexander Carey

McGill Student Phonathon supervisor, Alexander Carey

It is after hours, and the crowded, noisy room is filled with young people looking to score their next big payoff. Does this sound shady? In fact, it’s the scene of the McGill Student Phonathon, where dedicated students like third-year physics major Alexander Carey slip on headsets and microphones and speak to alumni, parents and friends of the University about the benefits of giving back.

As part of the Phonathon, a fundraising effort run by Development and Alumni Relations office, Alex and his classmates are tasked with raising vital sums of money to support McGill’s most important causes – from scholarships and internships to groundbreaking research to student programs and libraries.

They are among 68 McGill students who work at the Phonathon over seven shifts each week, uniting to make almost 4,000 calls each evening. It’s tough work, but it pays off: last year alone, the student callers raised over $1.4 million on the University’s behalf – and they had a great time along the way.

We recently sat down with Alex, a shift supervisor for the program, to discuss the inner workings of the Phonathon, his interactions with alumni, and the impact of philanthropy at McGill.

How do McGill alumni generally react to Student Phonathon callers?

Reactions do vary, but most graduates are happy to hear from current students. It gives them an opportunity to reconnect with the University, to reminisce about their time at McGill and to learn about what is happening on campus today. Alumni tend to be extremely loyal to the University, and I don’t think I’ve ever had someone who told me they had a bad student experience here.

Some people do get annoyed when we solicit, but their tones quickly change when they learn that the caller is an actual McGill student and not a hired telemarketer. They understand just how important their financial participation is to us students and to McGill as a whole.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

When I was caller, I really enjoyed making connections with alumni. They’ve been where I am now and I enjoyed talking to them about all those typical student experiences, like long study hours at the library, pizza breaks and preparing for exams.

Now that I’m a supervisor, I feel like I can multiply my contribution, because I help 18 callers do their jobs and do my best to make sure everything flows correctly.

 What has been your most memorable telephone call?

A few years ago, I called a graduate and we had a great conversation about his student experience. But when I asked if he would consider making a gift to support McGill, he turned the tables on me and tried to sell me a book he had written. Each time I tried to change the conversation, he kept steering it back to his book. He told me all about it and even gave me a URL for a web site where I could purchase it.

He didn’t make a gift and I never bought his book, but we did have an unforgettable conversation.

What have you learned about the importance of philanthropy by working at the Student Phonathon?

There are so many worthy student initiatives at McGill that don’t receive the funding that they need, so the University really relies on the generosity of graduates to push them forward. When we call alumni, we try to tell them that they don’t have to make a huge gift to have a huge impact. Even small donations – $20 here, $20 there – can quickly add up to some big numbers by the end of the year.

What is especially amazing about the Student Phonathon is that 100% of the money raised goes to support the students themselves. There is no percentage taken off the top for administrative costs. So when students bring in a donation, they don’t just feel great about themselves, they feel great for McGill.