Phonathon (SGA)

In fiscal year 2009-2010, the alumni giving rate of Davidson College exceeded that of any other college or university. [Boraks] However, Davidson used to lag behind in alumni participation. Once the Davidson community, including the administration, alumni and students, began working together, alumni giving increased from 23% to 61% between 1980 and 2010.

In the 1980s, despite low alumni participation, the college relied heavily on annual giving because tuition only paid for 60% of a Davidson education. SGA president David Waddill saw the phonathon as a way to increase student and alumni awareness. The Dana Foundation, a philanthropic foundation, offered Davidson a challenge grant of up to $100,000 if alumni giving increased in 1980. Meanwhile, a push to improve alumni giving came with preparations to celebrate Davidson’s 150th anniversary in 1987. The 1987 Program, a group created to fundraise for the anniversary, began working in 1980 to connect with alumni, many of whom had lost contact with Davidson.

Responding to both the need for support and the campus movement to increase alumni involvement, the SGA created an annual phonathon. The event supported the Living Endowment, which funded scholarships, the library and faculty compensation. Initiatives at other institutions partly inspired the idea for a phonathon. In the summer of 1980, representatives from Davidson visited Wofford University to learn about their successful telethon efforts. [Willingham]

postcard
Postcard sent to alumni in 1984 before the Phonathon

While launching the first Phonathon, SGA President David Waddill ‘81 wrote to Mike Daisley, Director of Corporate Programs, stating that he hoped to “lay the foundation for many years of student involvement in the Development Office.” To achieve this goal, the SGA created a Phonathon Committee to organize and promote student involvement in the Phonathon. The idea of a Phonathon and the SGA’s work proved a success. In recognition of them improved giving in 1980, Davidson received $40,000 from the Dana Foundation [Institutional Advancement]

To further increase annual giving, the Development Office simplified the donation process. In 1984, the Living Endowment, the Wildcat Club and the WDAV radio station merged under the Annual Fund’s umbrella. The following year, the SGA began calling on the Annual Fund’s behalf. The SGA encouraged student participation by turning the Phonathon into a competition between social organizations. The contest fostered friendly competition and led fraternities to require freshmen participation. To generate a festive atmosphere, students enjoyed free pizza and blew kazoos or noisemakers when they completed a successful call. John Laughlin ‘85, SGA President 1984-85, recalls, “Students enjoyed the chance to connect with alumni, perform a service for the school, and shoot for bragging rights for their house.”

graph showing increased alumni participation
Growth in alumni participation between 1979 and 1984

Maintaining the competition among social organizations, Laughlin organized the Phonathon so that fraternities called their alumni. The SGA strategically designed the calling plan so that successful callers contacted important alumni. Furthermore, most alumni expected the calls because the SGA sent out postcards a week before the event. With careful planning and the help of 300 students, the 1984 Phonathoncompleted 3,864 calls and raised $137,997. The SGA contributed significantly to the overall Annual Fund that raised $1,987,180 with 38.1% alumni participation.

postcard
Postcard sent to alumni in celebration of 50% alumni giving in 1990.

Despite the 15% growth in alumni participation in only four years, Davidson still lagged behind similar institutions in alumni giving. As The Annual Fund Handbook for Alumni in 1985 states, “Davidson is too fine a school to be satisfied with its current alumni participation of 38.1% in the Annual Fund. Williams, Dartmouth and Center College…have no finer alumni nor student body than we have – yet they reach 67% and above regularly.” Initiatives, such as the E. Lee Willingham III ’48 trophies for classes and class agents, further increased alumni giving. The SGA continued to organize the Phonathon, and Davidson alumni participation reached 50% in 1990.

chart
Graph of increase in alumni participation

Although the SGA no longer organizes the Phonathon, Waddill’s vision survives: students are actively involved in the Development Office. Around 2000, the Development Office took responsibility for the Phonathon and began paying the students with money instead of pizza. Maria Aldrich ’03, Director of the Annual Fund, describes the shift, saying, “The College saw a greater opportunity if it was something the professional staff managed and put in the annual operating budget.” The new organization proved successful, and alumni participation exceeded 60% in 2003.

In 2011, the tradition of student calling created by the SGA remains a part of the fundraising program. The SGA’s Phonathon played an integral role in moving Davidson to excellence in yet another category: alumni giving.

 

Works Cited

Aldrich, Maria. Personal Interview. 29 March 2011.

Boraks, David. “College giving sets records; alumni tops in U.S.” Davidsonnews.net. Web.

April 2011. http://davidsonnews.net/2010/07/27/college-giving-sets-records-alumni-are-tops-in-u-s/.

Crutchfield, E. E. Letter to David H. Waddill. 19 November 1980. RG 6/14.4. Committees –

Development (Phonathon), 1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Focus on Participation. Davidson Annual Fund Handbook for Alumni Volunteers. 1985. RG

5/3.4. Annual Fund Publications, 1984-1985. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Growth of Davidson Annual Fund. Davidson Annual Fund Handbook for Alumni Volunteers.

RG 5/3.4. Annual Fund Publications, 1984-1985. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Institutional Advancement – Executive Director. RG 5/2.2. Dana Challenge Fund. Davidson

College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Laughlin, John. Personal Interview. 30 March 2011.

Official Ballot 1984. Davidson College Alumni Association. RG 5/3.4. Annual Fund

Publications, 1983-1984. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Results of the 1984 Student Phonathon. RG 6/14.4. Committees – Development (Phonathon),

1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Special Message From the 1980 Living Endowment Chairman. 12 September 1980. RG 6/14.4.

Committees – Development (Phonathon), 1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Three Important Areas of Davidson’s Annual Operation Which are Assisted by the Living

Endowment. 1980. RG 6/14.4. Committees – Development (Phonathon), 1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Waddill, D. H. Letter to Edward E. Crutchfield, Jr. 10 November 1980. RG 6/14.4. Committees

– Development (Phonathon), 1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Waddill, D. H. Letter to Mike Daisley. 6 May 1980. RG 6/14.4. Committees – Development

(Phonathon), 1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Willingham, E. L. III. Letter to David H. Waddill. 8 May 1980. RG 6/14.4 Committees –

Development (Phonathon), 1980-1988. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Images

“Davidson Calling…” Postcard. 1984. Student Government Association. Davidson College

Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Growth of Davidson Annual Fund. Davidson Annual Fund Handbook for Alumni Volunteers.

RG 5/3.4. Annual Fund Publications, 1984-1985. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

50% Participation Postcard. From John W. Kuykendall. RG 5/3.4. Annual Fund Publications,

1990-91. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Alumni Participation by Fiscal Year. The Annual Fund. 2008. RG 5/3.4. Development Annual

Fund Publications, 2008-2009. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Author: Genevieve Nielsen
Date: April 2011

Cite as: Nielsen, Genevieve. “Phonathon.” Davidson Encyclopedia. 21 April 2011. <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/phonathon-sga>

Related Entries

Student Government Association and Service

Solidarity Committee (SGA)

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