MU's Tiger Calling Club fosters alumni giving

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:32 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 18, 2012

COLUMBIA — MU junior Rachael Meyr said wearing a headset makes her feel important.

This is Meyr's third year working at the student-operated Tiger Calling Club. The 60 to 70 students per semester call some 2,880 MU alumni daily to ask for donations to the university, said Beverly Smith, who oversees the students.

The club raises about $2.3 million annually for MU, said Catey Terry, director of development communications. Alumni can give to specific schools and colleges. The money is used for a range of expenses, notably scholarships, unrestricted support to schools and colleges and the Chancellor's Fund for Excellence.

Meyr is one of about two dozen student callers working the phones at the club in McReynolds Hall. Meyr sometimes asks senior Cassie Simpson, a floor supervisor, for help with difficult calls she has with alumni.

Simpson's job includes fielding such questions. It rarely includes sitting down.

"As callers, we just want to make sure that alumni still have a close relationship with the university and encourage them to give back," she said.

"There are so many success stories about Mizzou alumni who have bright careers due to the wonderful education they received at MU," Smith said.

Smith said the fully trained, better callers have learned to take more time with the alumni and average 17 donations per shift.

As with any telemarketing operation, the student callers learn to deal with all types of personalities and situations.

"I've received calls from several of my graduates and former Tiger Callers who have said that the experience they received dealing with people has helped them tremendously with their first jobs," Smith said. "Cold calls are a piece of cake for former TCC callers."

Experienced callers have a tenacious attitude in calling back alumni who weren't available for earlier calls and working until they get a donation.

The students call on behalf of certain groups such as the Mizzou Annual Fund, special projects and the Parents Fund. They also call for Mizzou Alumni Association memberships.

The students also update biographical information the university keeps on alumni and talk with them to find out interesting facts about them. Terry said MU has almost 267,000 living alumni.

"It's important alumni know that when they talk to us, we listen," Smith said.

When MU student Sam Gall transferred in 2011, his friends said Tiger Calling Club was a great place to work. Gall said he needed a job, and the club sounded like a good student position. Pay starts at $7.35 an hour.

Gall plays the double role of caller and supervisor and enjoys the club's camaraderie. "They are a great group of people, and they make every shift very enjoyable," he said.

Gall said it is important for alumni to support the university to ensure the next generation of students is presented with the same or better opportunities.

"Alumni had generous people behind them in many different ways while they attended Mizzou, and I think they should do their best to return the favor," Gall said.

His favorite calls are when he gets to speak with engineers about their careers and what they have found helpful in making a career.

"Most of the time these prospects have really interesting advice for me in advancing my career, and I greatly appreciate their input," he said.

Gall said his most difficult calls have been when alumni have made their mind up before they answer the phone and aren't going to trust whoever is on the other end.

"Sometimes people are just having a really bad day, and there is nothing I can do to change their mind," he said. "Those type of people are very challenging to call."

Terry said alumni donations are more important than ever.

"Traditionally, the state used to provide greater support to the university," she said. "In 1980, we received 43 percent of our operating budget from the state, but now we receive less than 14 percent of our funding from the state. We depend more than ever on private donors."

Terry said about four out of five undergraduates at MU receive some type of financial aid.

"In the late 1990s, the markets crashed in Asia, and our international students had a tough time paying," said Terry, who was the director of development at the Missouri School of Journalism at the time. "(Journalism School Dean) Dean Mills used money from donations to help them stay here. That is the type of flexibility you need with unrestricted funds."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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