Building a high-performing team of student callers is a make-it-or-break-it factor for the success of your university fundraising program. 

In our recent articles, we talked about hiring and training your student employees to help you find and onboard the best candidates for the job. 

But, once you put together a winning team, it’s equally important to ensure they stick around. A high turnover rate can hurt the effectiveness of your fundraising efforts and leave you going through the same recruiting cycle every couple of months.

One of the recent challenges with hiring students is getting them to see that this job is more than a one-semester commitment — we want them to work multiple semesters or even multiple years, ideally, the whole they’re in undergrad. 

In a perfect world, we’d hire them as incoming freshmen, they’d learn and grow in their student fundraiser role. Then, they would eventually move into a student leadership position as room leaders for their last couple of years in undergrad. 

Sometimes students are hired as professional staff after graduation.

All this brings us to the key question: how to promote student retention between semesters and during the school year? 

Mention the Incentives Early On 

This is a job with high turnover. You can expect student employees to leave, especially between the fall and spring semesters, and even more between spring and fall when graduation takes place. 

But, having a system in place to demonstrate to your students that you value them can reduce the attrition rate. They will be motivated to stay if they know you’re determined to help them grow, and their work will be rewarded.

Hire students with enthusiasm during the interview and orientation by sharing how you plan to incentivize and reward them. Show them early in their tenure how instrumental they are for the success of your program and that you want to keep them around. 

No, Pizza Parties Won’t Suffice

Effective incentives should go well beyond just having a pizza party or holding a contest every so often. 

These rewards can be nice-to-have perks when students are strapped for cash or running low on food in the fridge. But don’t expect someone to stick around at a job simply because of an occasional pizza party. 

Don’t forget it’s a part-time job for students, meaning that money is one of their priorities. If you don’t fatten their paycheck, they will find someone who will. 

We already talked about offering a competitive pay rate in one of our blog posts about hiring students for your program, so this is just a continuation of that concept. 

You can’t set a pay rate without additional incentives and expect students to stay interested and motivated. A new, better-paid job will come along and lure them away, so make sure to keep your monetary incentives competitive. 

So, how do you do that? 

Semester-Based Raises and Bonuses 

Raises and bonuses should NOT be an annual thing. 

Telling your students they will have to work for a whole year before they qualify for a raise or bonus is counterproductive. 

Instead, give them opportunities for incentives and bonuses each semester to return to work with you so that they know they can expect rewards to show up on their paychecks. 

Raises can be based on statistics from calls, text messages, and other outreach tools they use to get in touch with constituents. 

Don’t Forget to Acknowledge Their Effort 

In a scenario where you rely on metrics for rewards, tell students that you value the hard work they put into their phone calls. Be careful that whatever raise categories they work to achieve are somewhat attainable. 

For example, do a combination of things like the credit card rate, upgrades, renewals, straight dollars raised, number of pledges, etc., but also something like the percentage of good monitoring sessions from the semester or something that reflects the value of their effort. 

student employee retention

For this approach to work, think about tweaking the categories. Let’s say you plan to reward every person who raises $5,000 in pledges and gifts during the semester. If only 1 out of 15 students hit that category, your idea will fall flat, not to mention that this can damage your team’s morale.  

You can avoid this by reducing that monetary number a bit so more people can receive the raise.

Perhaps you pick 6-8 categories based on metrics and assign a 5-cent raise to each of them. As a result, some people could get a 5-cent bump, while high-performers could reach a 15-cent raise. So, poor performers and people who start later in the semester won’t be able to hit categories the way the best callers or early starters will. 

Once you have your raise categories set, share this with students on their first day so they know what they can work towards. When you get closer to the end of the semester, that is, the period when raises will have to be calculated, you can send around a stats sheet so each employee can see where they’re at and what targets they can try to hit before the semester ends. 

You’re giving them something tangible to focus on and charting a path for them to grow and make more money the better they do at their job. 

The point is to stimulate people to join the program earlier, do their best, and come back the next semester. Plus, you won’t be leaving anyone out since every student will have an opportunity to work towards at least a small raise. 

Continued Employment Raise

This is another pay raise model you can use to curb employee turnover – you give everyone a small raise if they continue working another semester. 

Though it’s pretty straightforward, you still have to be careful about not exceeding your budget. Consider capping these raises after a few semesters so they don’t get out of control. 

Draw up a budget with your leadership and the student payroll office by creating a list of all your employees and estimating costs in the following situations:

  •  If everyone got every single raise category – which is unlikely
  •  If every single person continued to stay on the payroll – which is impossible. 

Employing payroll software also comes in handy in this situation, aiding in the streamlining of tasks and improving the efficiency of planning for cost and payroll calculations.

Identifying potential outcomes will allow you to project a “highest cost scenario” and ensure you’ll stay within budget no matter what. 

End-of-Semester Bonuses

End-of-semester bonuses are a fun way to reward students for their hard work.

If your budget doesn’t allow for raises as described above, or if you can only do continued employment raises, then it’s a good idea to offer up the opportunity to get bonuses based on metrics/stats performance instead. For example, establish several categories and determine the bonus amount for each – $10, $15, or $15.

Or the students/teams that bring in the most revenue or pledges/gifts get a bonus to keep the friendly competitive spirit alive throughout the entire semester.

You can outline what it would look like for your budget by crunching numbers in the same way you did with raises. Such a calculation will help you determine if you can afford all the bonuses or how to set things up to make the strategy appealing and affordable.

Talk About Professional Opportunities 

Apart from monetary incentives, to keep your student employees around in between semesters, you can and should be providing other professional opportunities that might happen at different times of the school year.

Student Leadership Team 

Do you have a student leadership team? 

They are typically hired for the entire school year, which means having a regular salary. These positions also include a higher pay rate, more flexibility with scheduling, more responsibility, and more opportunity to learn and grow professionally. 

If you do promotions in the springtime, start mentioning this possibility to your student callers around the end of the fall. Suggest that they can come back to work for you in spring if they want to be eligible to apply. 

Mentoring Programs

Perhaps your university also has some kind of mentoring program for students interested in leadership opportunities in the future who aren’t quite ready to be promoted. 

This is another great way to keep students involved and engaged. You can offer this opportunity once a year or every semester and talk it up to get people wanting to return. Explain how they can first be in the mentoring program, then lead it, and finally, secure their spot on the leadership team. And it takes 3 or 4 semesters for all this to happen, which means that you can lock them into some kind of agreement and have them come back every semester.   

The idea is to have enough going on so that the students can learn and grow while incentivizing them monetarily to keep them engaged. All this will help them realize that this role is better than anything else out there. 

Throw End-of-Semester Parties 

While pizza parties shouldn’t be your top perk, it doesn’t mean they’re a terrible idea altogether. It’s OK to throw one from time to time.

student employee retention

Besides regular prizes and fun things during shifts, a big “end-of-semester” party (at least in the fall and spring) can be a great way to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. Send them off on a good note for the break, and pump them up to return a few weeks later when the next semester resumes. 

You don’t want to send them away on a sour note or let them think about other job opportunities while on a break. Give them something they’re excited about to make sure they return.

Here are some tips for organizing a memorable end-of-semester party: 

Pick a Theme

Have a fun theme that’s work-appropriate and easy to dress up for. 

Use some of your budget to get decorations, invite everyone, and have it count as one of their assigned shifts that week. 

For example, one year, I planned a red carpet-themed awards ceremony, and we sent everyone emailed invites they had to open. We got a fake red carpet, lined the walkway, had trays of sparkling cider being passed around, and did appetizers. Everyone dressed up in formal wear and was greeted by paparazzi on the red carpet. 

So, get some fancy catered food from a nice restaurant near the campus, if possible. 

Include the Awards

Put together a presentation of all the goals you hit, celebrate everyone, and give out awards for things like top performers in metrics categories. 

But, also give some awards away for “most spirit” or “most heart” or something similar to recognize the efforts of employees who are late bloomers or are still learning the ropes.

You don’t want it to be exclusive to the top students in the room, so you have to work to incorporate lots of people and not sow seeds of ill will.

Give a Sneak Peek of the Next Semester

The point is to get everyone pumped up and excited to be there. 

Give them a sneak peek for the spring and maybe announce those that have been promoted to the student leadership team or got into the mentoring program as a surprise. 

Wrap things up by talking about the goals for the spring semester and then wish them good luck on finals. 

Don’t Let the Communication Lag

Make sure to stay top of mind with your student employees, but without being too intrusive and pushy. 

Send them an email a week or so after the semester ends and share their new pay rate with them. Thank them again for their hard work, and inform them about the first day of the new semester and any key dates to be aware of. 

After this, take a pause while they take finals and enjoy their holidays. 

Then send one more email welcoming them back right before the new semester begins to remind them what they’re returning to. 

Apply these tips to your overall strategy, and you will start to see your high-performance team begin to develop.

higher education fundraising tips