Having motivated and skilled student callers on your team is the secret ingredient to a successful university fundraising campaign. 

Besides hiring the right people for the job, training them also plays an essential role in how they perform. 

Here are some practical tips on how to train your student workforce and gear them up for a triumphant calling season. 

We’ll go through a detailed step-by-step procedure to help you organize your training most effectively. 

1. Make a Plan 

Develop a training plan for the entire semester or year. 

This means mapping out your interview dates, first shift orientation dates, what parts of the training will be executed when, and establishing when training ends.

To ensure everything falls into place, consider the following factors. 

  • Have a set “go live” date for each student. This is when they have to be finished with training and pass their test to start making live calls to actual constituents. It’s a good idea to have a timeline of events to make sure you’ll have the entire new team on board when you start a campaign.   
  • Allow enough time between the date you hire a student caller and their first shift to complete any necessary paperwork. If they have to visit the student employment office to fill out forms, it’ll take 1-2 weeks to complete. Therefore, give yourself enough buffer time, so you don’t have to delay their start date. 
  • Ideally, you can hire in groups throughout the semester. This way, each training class will have a handful of new team members that can work through training together, learn with each other, and build camaraderie. 

2. Inform the Candidates About the Training Process Early On 

It’s essential to be on the same page with your candidates about the training process timeline before they start onboarding. 

Communicating this will prevent potential complications or conflicting schedules and ensure all your hires are ready to jump in and start calling when you need them. 

Discuss housekeeping

Tell them when training will start, what the new hire paperwork will look like, what they have to bring to work, how long training will last, and if they’ll be paid in training.

If there’s any required documentation needed for paperwork or the first day, explicitly tell them what they need to bring, ask them to confirm they’ll be able to bring those items, and then follow up via email.

Talk about expectations 

Outline the skills they’ll learn, how success is measured, and what they’ll be evaluated on. You don’t have to get specific in the interview, but it’s good to be transparent with expectations early so that candidates can consider whether they’re a good fit for the position. 

Let them know they’ll still receive monitoring and coaching once training is over. Explain that this is a “learn as you go” type of role and that they’re expected to improve over time with practice and experience under your wing.

Recap all this information with your applicants in a follow-up email after hiring them. Add a final reminder in a welcome email a day or two before their first shift. 

3. Design Your Training   

Training could last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of shifts over several weeks. 

Every successful training program needs a structure and processes.

Here are some tips to help you organize your training and prepare training materials. 

Elements to include in your training 

Break up your training to cover the following pieces, no matter how long it is. 

  1. Policies and procedures organization/institution/calling program. Discuss these with your trainees and get them to sign any confidentiality agreements due to the access they’ll have to constituent information. 
  2. Logging into and using your calling software. Have your students utilize training or test accounts within your platform so they can click through the software as you teach them how to use it. 
  3. Executing a phone call. There are some soft skills that your hires should acquire. So, your training should cover practicing with the script, getting comfortable talking on the phone with a stranger, building rapport with a potential donor, handling objection responses, responding to upset or angry alumni, and negotiating a pledge or gift. 
  4. Practice! Practice by conducting mock calls with a variety of common scenarios so that both you and your hires can identify the areas to work on and improve.  

Identify call-ready students 

sales students

You need to be able to identify the trainees that are ready to go live and start making phone calls. Determine achievements or metrics that will allow you to monitor their progress.  

Having a final benchmark evaluation allows you to ensure your students are prepared to talk to real constituents and are comfortable enough to navigate around the call themselves. It’ll also highlight any skill deficiencies that may need to be addressed before they go live.

Use a handful of mock call scenarios as a benchmark to hit, a final call with the manager, a written exam, or a combination of any of these.  

Keep training as realistic as possible

Move from theory to practice, and get your students to earn their stripes while in training. 

Your students will be able to use a training/test environment to follow along with the materials being presented. Use this safe environment to practice mock call scenarios, update constituent demographic information, show them how to overcome common telefundraising challenges, and process test pledges or gifts. 

To make the most of your training, try the following: 

  • Use cell phone/office phones during mock calls, so the students can get used to speaking through a headset and looking at the computer screen while talking with someone over the phone 
  • It’s one thing to train someone on how to click around software and another to teach them how to hold a conversation on the phone with a stranger. Remember that training won’t be one-size-fits-all for every trainee, so you have to be prepared to provide extra feedback, extra mock call practice, or teach something using a different approach, more impactful to your trainees. 

4. Prepare Training Materials

If your training materials are interesting and user-friendly, it will be easier to engage your student callers. 

Here are some best practices for putting together training kits. 

  • Use a combination of PowerPoint slides and physical training materials that you can hand out to the trainees.  
  • Provide a workbook of practice scenarios, terminology, and key information about your school and what you’re fundraising for. Encourage your trainees to take notes and utilize their materials as they learn and then on their live calls as well.
  • Provide a training folder where they can leave their materials, so they don’t forget to bring them to work.
  • Keep your PowerPoint presentation as interactive as possible. Show a few slides and do some practice within the software on the computers, have your trainees fill out a worksheet as you walk through a PowerPoint, and encourage partner activities. For example, role plays are a great practice. Students can get used to the scripts by reading them back and forth to each other as if one person was the caller and one person was the constituent. 

5. Continue Training After Student Callers Go Live 

Initial training is just for breaking your new hires into the calling routine and showing them the ropes. 

To build a team of star student callers, it’s crucial to offer them continuous education. 

Keep an eye on them 

Monitor students’ calls and have regular monitoring sessions. 

Emphasize that effort goes a long way, even if the execution is rocky to start with.

As your students become increasingly proficient at calling, you won’t need to monitor their every shift. But don’t abandon this practice entirely. Monitor every student in the room at least once every two weeks to ensure they feel like they matter. When they get some face time with you and other supervisors, they know they can’t start to get lazy because someone will be checking on them. 

This also gives you the chance to nip any issues in the bud – before they start snowballing.

Feedback is critical 

Your students will continue to need feedback and support as they learn more during their calls. 

Touch base regularly and ask them how they are doing. 

You can go up to your students at their calling stations for a quick reminder between calls. However, generally speaking, to hold a monitoring session, you should pull them off the phones and have a one-on-one conversation with them to give feedback and constructive criticism.

Above all else, do not only hold a monitoring session when something is going wrong. Talking to your students only when they screw something up is a surefire way to give your monitoring sessions a negative connotation. 

First of all, tell them they’re killing it and congratulate them on their hard work, too. Doing this part well will sugarcoat the pill and do wonders to keep the attitude and atmosphere in the room friendly and positive. 

Follow the Sandwich Compliment Method – something good, something to work on, and finish with something good again. 

It’s okay to tell your students they have some things to improve upon, but at the end of the day, they’re just students in a student job, and it’s up to you to encourage them to succeed and provide them with the tools they need to get there. 

Wrapping Up 

By training your students thoroughly, letting them know it’s a continual process, and supporting them as they grow as callers, they won’t feel like they’re left hanging in the wind. Moreover, they will be more likely to continue working with you semester after semester, thus allowing you to build a team of experienced callers.

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