Beyond the call of duty: Telefund employee raises record $545,000 over four-year career

While most students opt to secure on-campus jobs behind the sandwich counter of Hodgdon, beyond the kitchen doors of Dewick or amidst a sea of filing cabinets in Dowling, a select few choose to work in the depths of Eaton at the Tufts Telefund calling center, where employees blast out calls to associates of Tufts in hopes of raising money for the university.

One such Tufts student, senior Cory Blodgett, is currently leading the pack of fundraising callers. In his almost four-year career at Tufts, Bodgett has raised a record-setting $545,000.

Blodgett started at the Telefund shortly into his first year on the Hill through a connection with a classmate in his Spanish course.

“My current boss was in my Spanish class,” Blodgett said. “In our introductions, he said that he worked at the Telefund, and if anyone needed a job, they should talk to him, so I did.”

Because his fundraising efforts have been so successful, Blodgett now works three to four nights a week at the calling center as one of four supervisors who advise the newer callers on how to make an effective pitch. When placing calls, Blodgett said that the key is to be as personable as possible and to get to know the people in the short amount of time before they hang up.

“I tell people to try and communicate with the person on the other end — don’t sound like a robot and try to make a friend in two minutes,” he said. “It’s a lot harder for them to hang up on someone like that.”

Although Blodgett has raised an impressive amount for the school, there are many others Telefund callers who follow close behind. Senior Eleanor Gonzales has the second-highest dollar amount with $520,000, and Blodgett said that there are others, like seniors Chris Maxwell and Steven Elsesser, who have dedicated comparable lengths of time and are well within the ballpark.

“The staff as a whole is a group of dedicated people who work hard to help the school,” he said. “We have raised millions of dollars for Tufts because every caller — and every donor — makes a difference.”

Blodgett also said that, along with the dedicated staff, he enjoys the position due to the people he gets to interact with over the phone.

“My favorite part is talking to people. You get to talk to everyone from different geographic, different ethnic, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and you learn to talk to people when they are happy and when they are angry,” he said. “You get to talk to them and set [donations] up the way they would like it to be, and sometimes you’ll just get to meet a nice person.”

The Tufts Telefund is a part of the university’s annual fund, which goes toward anything from research and faculty costs to technology and infrastructure enhancements. It also supplements financial aid and tuition, which makes it increasingly important given the pressing economic downturn. In the midst of the financial crisis, Blodgett said that there has not been much of a difference in generosity, but the callers have adjusted their attitudes.

“We haven’t seen a noticeable decrease in the percentage of people who are showing their support to Tufts,” he said. “Obviously, with the economy the way it is, we want to show as much empathy as we can and be as understanding as possible.”

Outside of academics and the Telefund, Blodgett employs his fundraising expertise to assist other organizations as well. After his friend created a non-profit foundation called Heal the Children, which is currently in the process of raising money to build a school in Africa, she enlisted his help.

“[My friend] knew I worked at the Telefund and had experience with that sort of thing, so she asked me to help. We tried to generate a calling list, but no one has any connection to the cause, so it’s much more difficult to get their attention,” he said. “The one thing about the Tufts Telefund is that everyone we call is connected to Tufts in some way, so it is easier to catch their interest.”

While raising money currently occupies a large portion of his time, he is doubtful that his fundraising efforts will transfer to a career post-college, though he did not immediately rule out the prospect.

“I’ve considered careers in advancement,” he said. “But I’m double majoring in biology and psychology. So right now my future looks like grad school or becoming a physician’s assistant.”