For more than a decade, UCF student fundraisers have called on alumni and parents from a lively call center housed just slightly off-campus in Research Park. Known as Knight Line, the center employs around 35 full-time UCF students each semester whose goal is to engage with donors and potential donors and provide an insider view on the great things that are happening at UCF. Their efforts have raised as much as $400,000 annually for student scholarships and vital programs at the university.
When the pandemic came calling, the on-site engagement center went remote. Getting new software to keep information secure and allow calling from personal computers was the easy part. But with training and feedback being crucial to the student fundraisers’ success, this new format presented some challenges.
As is typical of Knights, they rose to the challenge and have excelled.
“[We] had to change up how we interact during shifts, since we aren’t together in person; it’s more difficult to ask a question or provide feedback,” says Alexander F. Pribil, engagement center manager at Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL), the organization that partners with The UCF Fund in managing call center operations.
Although COVID-19 has changed some of the logistics of student calling, the focus remains the same: staying in touch.
“Our goal is to let [alumni] know we still care about them, wanting to know how they’re doing after graduating and letting them know about things going on at UCF,” says student supervisor Ilyssa Appleman, an event management major who has worked at Knight Line for two years.
Now, the student fundraisers focus on ‘care calling,’ rather than on raising funds for university students and programs. Since the pandemic hit, callers have made about 16,000 care calls.
“When we got started with our care calling, we spent some time working on active listening, and taking cues from our alumni,” says Pribil. “Most calls average around the three-minute mark but we have [had] some great conversations that went on for 25-30 minutes — the callers were really connecting with our alumni.”
Appleman agrees that everyone has adapted well off-site. She has found the transition to care calls very successful and says that most alumni seem to enjoy them.
“They feel appreciated that we called to check in during these challenging times. A lot of them like to talk because they have been cooped up inside.”
“[The alumni] feel appreciated that we called to check in during these challenging times. A lot of them like to talk because they have been cooped up inside.”
The student fundraisers also work hard to stay connected to each other remotely. “I believe that the callers have adapted to working off-site in a wonderful way,” says Tahlia Hutchinson, a political science major who has worked at Knight Line for more than a year. “We run games in our chatroom during shifts and even just talk about our days and update each other on what’s going on.”
But, regardless of the location — on-site or off-site — Knight Line makes an impact not only on the alumni who receive the calls, but also on the students who make the calls.
“The friendships and connections I have made at the Knight Line will always hold a special place in my heart,” says Appleman. “I’ve learned so much about the university while working here, and while it’s common to have a bad day at a job, I have never had a bad day here!”
Hutchinson agrees. “Working at the UCF Knight Line has offered me many different opportunities, from internships to networking,” she says. “The UCF Knight Line pays in more ways than one.”