The Economics of Phonathon

I am unashamed to admit that in my single semester employed by UPS Phonathon, the school lost money on me. As I worked my hardest to get pledges, very few people were interested in allowing me to facilitate their donation to the university. After my semester, the hourly wages I accrued vastly exceeded the donations I was able to facilitate.

For those who are unfamiliar, the phonathon is an on-campus employment opportunity led predominately by students. The phonathon is responsible for all the calls made to alumni with the request of financial donations. So, if and when the school starts calling you, the student is overwhelmingly likely to work there.

Anyway, back to me and my skills as a student caller… or lack thereof. Being a caller requires a substantial amount of initial investment on the part of the school to help you develop the skills need to be successful. Only after a lengthy training (which is paid) are you ready to finally interact with UPS alumni. Even then, as a caller with unrefined skills, the people you call are unlikely to pick up. For hours on end, you could potentially not talk to a single person all the while being paid. Not a bad deal for a broke college student, right?

The question arises: how does the University turn a profit on the new callers who most likely only get relatively small donations? Eventually, if you are able to prove yourself as an apt caller and can fit it in your schedule to continue your employment over multiple semesters, your pledge rate starts to improve and as a result, the people you call become more likely to answer (you are given cards with people who have answered in the past). At this point, congratulations, you are finally contributing to help the university’s endowment fund!

In the short run, the program most likely loses money on the new callers who have yet to master the art of cold calling but long term, when the donations start to come in more consistently the donations finally begin to exceed the wage expenses. The department relies on those callers able to commit multiple semesters to the program to help balance out those new callers who just can’s swing the time commitment (aka me).

So now it’s on you, when you inevitably begin getting calls from phonathon, remember and be sympathetic to those new callers still working to develop their skills.

About Declan Peloso

Declan is a second year Economics and Business student, focusing on finance at the University of Puget Sound

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