How NAU Kept Their Entire Student Call Center Employed During a Pandemic

  • NAU’s 35 student callers recorded and sent over 30,000+ unique videos for donors, alumni, students, and employees using ThankView.
  • NAU built up their digital tools, like ThankView, for the past 2 years which gave them the flexibility to pivot to work-from-home strategies.
  • The donor giving day thank you campaigns had a 70% open rate and the videos sent to current students had a 50% open rate!
  • Every student caller retained their job, providing steady and secure employment during the pandemic.

2020 changes as we know it…

Northern Arizona University was ramping up for their April 23rd giving day — but instead of balloons, t-shirts, and festivities, April 2020 brought total silence to the NAU campus.

A week after spring break, students opted to work from home. The annual giving team didn’t know how or if working remotely was an option for their student callers.

Working remotely, students wouldn’t have access to their donor database and call center tools, but more importantly, the annual giving team knew that a nationwide shutdown was not the time to be calling to ask their donors for money.

The students were safe, but could they keep their jobs?

NAU’s annual giving team jumps into action

It would have been easy to give up and choose to wait it out. Instead, NAU’s annual giving team decided they were going all-in: every donor and student that could be contacted was going to get a message.

In total, they sent over 30,000+ unique videos to donors, alumni, employees, and current students of NAU.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do what we did without ThankView. There wouldn’t have been an option to keep the students employed. ThankView kept 35 students employed in Arizona.” — Beth Hickey, Director of Annual Giving at NAU

Stepping up the challenge…

For Abraham Kelley, Manager of Annual Giving, this project meant spreadsheets. A lot of spreadsheets. De-duping alumni, donors, and student emails, then splitting them into manageable lists and making sure the student workers were ThankView-savvy.

After a ThankView training session, led by Abraham and Sedrick Cap, Student Coordinator for the Lumberjack Engagement Center, the students were ready to begin recording.

Students would record anywhere from 100-700 names per week. Their unique videos followed a message from the President’s Office and an alumni newsletter. Neither recording included an ask. In their videos, students highlighted two calls to action: First, a request for an update on how the recipients’ families were doing and second, a link to donate to the student emergency fund.

A clear and accessible call to action was key to their success.

NAU’s student videos and the description beneath the video let recipients know exactly how to film their video and offered them a link to donate. And the annual giving team saw their donors do both!

“… The student voice is so important for our alumni and our donors,” said Beth, “and you do actually have to ask.”

Speaking of giving, April 23rd approached: the date for NAU’s giving day. It was still a giving day in name, but their focus wasn’t on fundraising; the focus was on compassion with the theme, #AxeofKindness.

Students kept recording personalized check-ins from March until graduation, but the #AxeofKindness day was a great opportunity for the annual giving team to take a beat and celebrate everyone who had donated to the student emergency fund.

The Responses

The #AxeofKindness ThankView campaign saw a 70% open rate by donors; a 50% open rate by current students, with over 60 current students responding with their own message of gratitude or an update.

The most inspiring message the team received came from an international student. She filmed this response right before returning to Pakistan for the rest of the spring semester. We could describe how she felt the NAU Lumberjack pride, but let’s let her speak for herself and roll the clip!

Beth said it best: “We’re just ambassadors, that’s the role that we at annual giving have stepped into. We’re not tied to a specific college. We’re across the university. And we are building a culture of philanthropy from the ground up.”

Important Footnote: these are real people!

Image for post
Beth Hickey, Director of Annual Giving

Meet Beth Hickey, Director of Annual Giving a proud NAU alumna who has challenged her team to push the limits of what annual giving can look like. Thanks to her push for more digital-focused fundraising and stewardship, her team had the ability to make “hard, fast, crazy decisions and kind of run with it” when the nationwide social distancing went into effect.

Image for post
Abraham Kelley, Manager of Annual Giving

Meet Abraham Kelley, Manager of Annual Giving. Abraham was the brains behind the data manipulation that made this campaign possible. Armed with spreadsheets and a will to succeed he led the call center students in a personalized stewardship project that had not been attempted at this scale before.

Image for post
Megan Gray, Assistant Director for Digital Fundraising

Introducing Megan Gray, Assistant Director for Digital Fundraising. She is described as the glue that attracts so many other departments to work with annual giving, particularly when it comes to their giving day effects. Her strategy is simple, “It’s about inviting as many people to the table and trying to find why would an annual giving day matter to them.”

Image for post
Sedrick Cap, Student Coordinator

And last but certainly not least is Sedrick Cap, Student Coordinator for the Lumberjack Engagement Center. He and the 35 student callers recorded meaningful, personalized videos to donors. Spring 2020 was Sedrick’s final semester at NAU, but after years of working with the annual giving team, his major takeaway is that “A culture of philanthropy comes very much from the top down.

Interested in what ThankView can do for you? Schedule some time to connect at

Previous Post
Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *