Tales of 'The Link'

Students say that working on university’s phonathon has real-world value

By Mary Boone

In his role as an executive recruiter for a large Tokyo firm, Evan Yamasaki ’98 spends hours on the phone each day, talking with clients and job candidates. He credits his good phone skills to the four years he spent working at The Link, Puget Sound’s Annual Fund phonathon program, which each year contacts 14,000 alumni, parents, and other friends for conversations that yield more than $400,000 for the unrestricted Annual Fund and campus programs.

“I would say all of my phone conversation skills started with the phonathon,” says Yamasaki. “I learned to build rapport over the phone and how to do an effective ‘sales’ call. The phona-thon also helped me learn not to take rejection personally.

“I did the phonathon to get a nice little paycheck to buy food and books. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would help me in my future career,” he says.

But Ted Lyon ’77 isn’t surprised to hear former Link callers say that the poise they learned is carrying over to the work world. He was instrumental in transforming the phona-thon from a once-a-year, volunteer fund-raising campaign to a year-round program staffed by paid student workers who are specially trained to make calls and answer questions about the university.

“I was in the insurance business at the time, so making cold calls was a piece of cake for me, but other callers needed to build their confidence,” says Lyon, who now runs his own marketing consultancy firm in Monte-sano, Wash.

“I was convinced if we could write good scripts and train students, we’d not only raise more money, we’d also help students build skills that would help them throughout their lives,” he says.

Britten Snider ’00 says she routinely uses the many skills she developed while working at The Link in her job as a Puget Sound admission counselor. “I do a lot of presentations to high school students now, so I’m thankful The Link helped me improve my public speaking skills,” she says. “The experience helped me become more responsible. I learned to work well as a member of a team, and I learned to manage my time better. In fact, my grades actually went up after I started working at The Link because I became aware of the need to plan ahead to get school work done.”

Sara Ely Garske ’96 says that serving as a Link caller helped refine her negotiation skills (“Those came in handy when asking my parents for things in college,” she jokes), and also paved the way for a career in fund raising. She’s now an associate director of development at Claremont McKenna College, heading up the Parents Club Program.

“The Link really helped me learn to make connections with people,” she says. “Obviously the experience directly relates to what I do now, but these are the kinds of transferable skills that can help anyone, in their personal lives or in whatever career field they choose.”

Sarah Tacha ’02, who has served The Link since her freshman year—first as a caller and then a coordinator—adds, “I’ve learned so much about the University. It also helped me with scholarships in two ways. The Annual Fund supports scholarships, so that’s the first way. But on top of that, one alumna called the scholarship office after our phonathon conversation and gave me a glowing reference!”

Tacha summarizes, “My calling experience showed me the importance of staying connected and supporting the university so future students can have the same great educational experience I had. Money makes it possible, but it’s priceless.”