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2 October 2019
A telephonic marathon well worth running
Between 5 and 31 August 2019, 60 enthusiastic students worked the phones during the 2019 UWC Alumni Phonathon and made contact with as many alumni of the University of the Western Cape as they could. The primary purpose of the phonathon is to promote individual giving to UWC; specifically, donations to the Access to Success student bursary fund campaign.

Access to Success was initiated by the UWC SRC in 2016 to raise funds to support academically deserving students. The UWC phonathon is the main fundraising event of the Access to Success campaign and is managed by the UWC Alumni Relations Office.

Alumni Relations Manager Niven Maree says, “The phonathon is an invaluable opportunity to reconnect with alumni, many of whom are no longer based in Cape Town and thus are not able to participate in the many public programmes and campus events that we host.

“Feedback received from alumni during the phonathon shows that they appreciate the direct contact with the student caller who, as a current student, is able to give a personal account of the latest developments on campus, and often news of the faculty, sport or activity of most interest to the alumnus.”

Because they would be representing the UWC brand, the 60 students were shortlisted through a rigorous vetting process that included telephonic interviews to assess their telephone etiquette and background/reference checks.

After selection, the students underwent a two-day training weekend that involved role-playing and analysing possible scenarios such as encountering an irate alumnus, or one who was misinformed about a news event. Knowing how to go off-script and ‘sell’ the University’s successes was a necessary skill. The students also attended formal sessions on telemarketing, effective communication and time management.

The phonathon took place daily from Mondays to Thursdays, between 17h30 and 20h00, and on Saturdays between 10h00 and 14h00. Students operated from the Geomodeling Computer lab in the Chemical Sciences Building, which is already fitted with computers and the telephony system required.

Over a four-week period, thousands of calls were logged to alumni, who responded by pledging a total of R1.7-million to the campaign. The follow-up process of converting these pledges to actual donations will take several more weeks to complete. However, according to Maree, preliminary figures are very promising and a clear indication that the results of the second-ever phonathon will “easily eclipse the 2017 edition (there was no phonathon in 2018)”.

The students, who were paid a stipend as part of the University’s Work-Study programme, received a certificate of participation as well as a letter of recommendation that will be considered when they apply for their co-curricular credits from the Student Development and Support department (the credits will appear on their academic transcripts to aid future job applications).

Ever since it defied racial restrictions on studying at the institution in the 1980s, UWC has cherished a tradition of promoting greater access to higher education. In today’s context, this includes finding creative ways to materially support enrolled students. 

Despite limited resources, UWC’s Work-Study programme, bursaries, excellence awards and rebates and special campaigns like Access to Success have provided thousands of economically disadvantaged students with a chance to augment their incomes and complete the financially arduous journey to graduation.