Virginia Tech Magazine
Virginia Tech

Annual donors answer the call

Photos by Kelsey Kradel

Last year, Melissa Burgess got a call from an undergraduate working in the Office of Annual Giving's student calling center.

Though it was the first time she had received such a call, Burgess (political science '08) knew just what to expect because, as a student, she had worked as a caller, a supervisor, and eventually a shift manager at the center.

"It was really nice to be able to not only hear [someone doing] what I had done over several years, but then decide that now was the time for me to give back to the school," said Burgess, who is still in Blacksburg working toward her master's in sociology. "I did give to my department, and I will continue to do so each year."
Melissa Burgess (political science '08)
Melissa Burgess (political science '08), who made fundraising calls for Virginia Tech while an undergraduate, donated to the university as an alumna after getting such a call.
Donors who answer the calls to give—whether by phone, e-mail, or direct mail—are a vital source of support for programs and initiatives across campus. The university's Annual Giving program raised $3.07 million in gifts last fiscal year, funds that benefit about 20 different colleges or programs.

More than half of that money was raised through the student calling center, which employs nearly 80 students, including Monica Black (mechanical engineering '13).

"When I first started working here, I didn't expect people to be as receptive as they have been," Black said. "Most people are happy to hear from Virginia Tech because they usually had a good experience here."

"Alumni give because they value what the university has done for them, and they understand that their participation helps guarantee those same benefits for the next generation of Hokies," Director of Annual Giving Randy Holden said. "But those gifts, no matter the size, do more than make a difference to students and faculty on campus. They also have a very positive impact on our national reputation."

Tech's reputation gets a boost when a graduate makes a gift, in any amount, because he or she adds to the alumni donation rate, which factors into high-profile university rankings. Many alumni make a point of giving annual gifts to show that they remain passionate about their alma mater and to remember the important role it played in their lives.

One such alumnus is Donald Stewart (mechanical engineering '43), of Winchester, Va., who has given one or more gifts every year since the Carter administration. He often contributes to athletics, the College of Engineering, and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
Shift manager Danielle Harris '11 (right) and caller Ishita Haque '11
Shift manager Danielle Harris '11 (right) and caller Ishita Haque '11
Looking back on his education, Stewart said he is "amazed at how much I got out of it" but is also impressed at how much larger and more prominent his alma mater is today, thanks in part to alumni support.

"Fortunately, there are enough people out there who feel the same way about the university as I do, and it's really made an impact on the growth of the university as a whole," Stewart said.

During their many conversations with people like Stewart, student callers see their job not only as raising money but as building and maintaining relationships, said Danielle Harris (African studies, international studies, Spanish '11), who works as a shift manager at the call center.

"Even if they've moved away or they haven't come back to visit in maybe 10 or 15 years, they still feel connected to the university [while] they're talking with students," Harris said. "It gives them an opportunity to ... talk about Virginia Tech in a meaningful way and also to express, possibly, their love for Virginia Tech through financial giving."


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Spring 2011
•  Students who work in the call center: 78
•  Donors who said "yes" when asked to give by a student caller last year: 14,727
Minha Husain '12
Minha Husain '12
•  People who have made annual gifts at least two years running: 10,534
•  Given or pledged last year in response to calls: $1.64 million
Christian Nulty '11
Christian Nulty '11
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Championing Hokies on and off the field


Dan Maguire (management science '94) describes himself as a "huge fan" of the Hokies. Since graduating, he has bought football season tickets and makes a point of bringing his children to games each year.

"It's great to take them to campus and show them where I went to college," said Maguire, of Great Falls, Va. "I get a lot of enjoyment from that, but I also know that the school as a whole benefits greatly from having successful athletic programs."

J.P. Foley ' 92 and Dan Maguire ' 94
J.P. Foley ' 92 and Dan Maguire ' 94
For Maguire and thousands of alumni like him, following the Hokies means more than checking the Bowl Championship Series standings; it also means paying attention to their school's academic rankings and the reputation of its graduates.

Maguire's interest in the university's overall success led him to serve as a volunteer for The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future and to broaden his commitment of financial support. Along with his business partner J.P. Foley (management science '92), he recently created an endowment within the Division of Student Affairs to support Leadership Tech, an undergraduate leadership training program. Maguire and Foley operate a management and information technology consulting firm, Dominion Business Solutions Inc.

Their aim in underwriting Leadership Tech is to help students graduate with the type of interpersonal skills that will allow them to continuously advance in the workplace, said Foley, who is also a generous donor to athletics and a campaign volunteer.

Nancy Harris Brittle (mathematics '72) is a former Hokie cheerleader who has maintained her enthusiasm for supporting Virginia Tech's sports teams. She has extended that fervor to nonathletic endeavors, such as the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy (WLP) initiative. WLP spotlights women who contribute to the university through service and leadership, brings students and mentors together, and sponsors guest lectures. Brittle, also the director of the alumni career resources program, has contributed to both athletic and nonathletic programs, and helps with athletic fundraising as a volunteer Hokie representative.

In many cases, people who give to university athletics later broaden their support to nonathletic programs. For nonalumnus Buddy Wilton, of Islamorada, Fla., the reverse was true.

Through his involvement in Virginia's real estate industry, he became a supporter of the residential-property management program within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. While promoting that program, he realized a box in Lane Stadium could help him engage potential donors, so he secured one. "Sports get people excited about Virginia Tech," he said. "If they're excited, I can talk to them about development."

Albert Raboteau is a writer for University Development.