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Bethel College phonathon a unique tradition with unique success

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Every February, alumni of all ages gather on the top floor of the Administration Building to support Bethel College--by asking other people to support Bethel College. The Bethel College phonathon is one of the college’s most important fundraising events. Every February since 1980, when alumni director Edwin R. Stucky initiated the effort, Bethel alumni volunteer to call other alumni from throughout the United States and Canada and ask them to donate money. They use a donor base other than that of Bethel’s Advancement Office.

This year, 63 individuals representing 41 different class year participated in the fund raiser. The group clocked 309 hours of phone calls and contacted 1,152 alumni. The oldest volunteer graduated from Bethel in 1941, the youngest in 2005.

The primary group of callers is the Alumni Council, a group of 26 alumni who are asked to fill four 3-hour time slots, either by doing the calling themselves or by recruiting other volunteers. Members of the Young Alumni Committee also participate in this way. Some callers, however, don’t need a special invitation.

Martha Graber, North Newton, a 1941 graduate, has volunteered the last 15 years. "I talk to some of the same people from year to year," said Graber. "It’s a good way to keep in touch. This is a contact thing as much as a fund-raising thing."

Dave Linscheid, director of alumni relations (and a 1975 Bethel graduate), has organized the event since 2000. For Linscheid, the most enjoyable feature of the event is the opportunity for conversation with other alumni. "It is my excuse to call classmates and friends that I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to talk to from year to year," he said.

Jason Peters of Hesston, a 2000 graduate who has done calling for straight years, agrees that the conversations are valuable, even if talking on the phone for three hours and asking for donations isn’t always fun. "It’s not something I get really excited about, but it is nice to be able to talk to former classmates," he said.

Crystal Enz, Newton, a 2004 graduate, added, "Bethel graduates are generally fun people to visit with."

While the interpersonal aspect of the phonathon is certainly important, the event is also one of Bethel’s most significant fund raisers. By the time the calling ended, Phonathon 2006 had resulted in pledges and actual gifts totaling $110,000. An additional $20,000 is anticipated from those who did not make a specific contribution over the phone but intend to support the college with a phonathon gift, for a year-end total of $130,000.

Jim Dodson, senior consultant for Brarer, Mulden, German Associates, who has worked with Bethel College’s Advancement office, helps many schools manage the financial aspect of their phonathons. "I think Bethel College has one of the better phonathons of colleges in the Plains States," said Dodson. One important contributing factor, according to Dodson, is the "use of volunteer callers who are loyal to Bethel and who are not afraid to ask others to support their school."

Last year’s phonathon also raised about $130,000, more than 10 percent of the amount the college needs in donations each year.

"I know of other colleges who go through a company to conduct their phonathons," said Linscheid. "Others have students do it. But I’m not aware of any other schools which have alumni make the phone calls. That is one of the strengths of our particular system."

Money raised by this year’s phonathon will go to the Current Fund, which provides many student-centered activities, programs and facilities, including scholarships, convocation speakers and intramural activities.

"The college is a worthwhile cause," said Martha Graber. "I support it, so I’m happy to ask other people to support it as well."

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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