A Q&A With Mike McPherson

If you have ever wondered about the Annual Giving program of the Mississippi State University Foundation, including how you can go about giving to it, then this question and answer session with MSU Foundation Director of Annual Giving Mike McPherson is exactly what you have been looking for.

Talk about what Annual Giving really means?
"The Annual Fund at Mississippi State is all about people helping people. It is a gateway for individuals to give to the university in ways that make significant differences in people's lives - students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

"What most people probably don't know is you can give to any part of Mississippi State through the Annual Fund.

"The Annual Fund is about helping people match what is important to them - where their heart is - to what is needed on campus. Mississippi State is so diverse in every aspect of what it does that we are going to have something that matches what you are passionate about."

How do you contact people about giving to the Annual Fund?
"We focus on four areas.

"First is direct mail. That is the core of our operations.

"Something that we are expanding is our electronic communication, the second element of our communication with alumni and friends. This area refers to emails and the use of the Web to receive gifts. You can go to the Foundation's Web site and make a donation online with a credit or debit card. It's very easy to do and very secure for the donor. (www.msufoundation.com)

"The third element is telefunding through the Bulldog Calling Center, which employs some 40 student callers. People love talking to our student callers. Just being around those guys energizes you, and they are carrying a heavy load. They are going to school and working, some even work several jobs.

"We are also working to conduct more personal visits and face-to-face solicitations."

You mentioned people can give to anything they want to. Can they go as detailed as requesting that their gift go to purchasing a specific item in a specific college within the university?
"They can, but we really encourage that people give to the college itself or to the university because the more flexibility the college has in using that money, the more it can go toward the needs that are most prevalent. Restrictions on the gift are entirely up to the donor. But the more flexibility you give, the more good you are going to do for that program because they will be able to respond better to their immediate needs.

Do you talk to individuals or groups or both?
"Both. A group of MSU representatives recently met with alumni at one of the Alumni Association local chapter meetings. We talked about the Annual Fund and other programs. It was very successful and very well received. Alumni have a genuine interest in being involved."

Obviously, you have a lot of tools for fundraising. How do you help each college within the university with their fundraising?
"Each year we work with the deans and development directors in each college to identify their individual needs and then develop direct mail, phone and electronic solicitations that will encourage our alumni and friends to help their college meet these needs.

There is money coming in from the state of Mississippi for the operation of the university and the federal government provides money in terms of research dollars. Due to those two ways of generating money, why is there a need for an Annual Giving program?
"Competition for state support is fierce, and Mississippi State is growing at record rates. The funds we receive from private and corporate giving allow the university to supplement its state funding and better meet its growing needs - including increased scholarships, enhanced faculty support, and continued efforts to improve the appearance of campus."

Do you have a financial goal for the Annual Fund for the next five years?
"I would like to see us continue to strengthen our program, and I believe we can grow giving by as much as five percent per year over the next five years. We have a good program here that we can make great."

What is your Annual Giving goal for this year?
"Our goal this year was $900,000, and thanks to the generosity of our alumni and friends we were actually able to exceed this goal. In fact, for the first time in the university's history, the Annual Fund has raised over $1 million and counting will continue through June 30th. That is an exciting achievement and a testament to the teamwork of the different departments working within the MSU Foundation. "

Where does the Annual Fund stop and Major Gift Giving start dollar-wise?
"The Annual Fund stops at $25,000. When donors talk about gifts of $25,000 or more, we introduce them to one of our major gift officers who work specifically in the area that the donors are most interested."

Going back to the Calling Center, how long has it been in existence?
"The Calling Center began operation in its current format in the fall of 2001 and all operations were brought in-house about four years ago. Since that time, the center has been staffed entirely by MSU students."

Describe the Bulldog Calling Center.
"The Bulldog Calling Center is located in the Hunter Henry Center and has 25 calling stations. We call on Sunday afternoons and Monday through Thursday nights. During each calling session, we attempt about 4,000 dials using automated dialers."

How do people know a call is a legitimate call from the Bulldog Calling Center?
"It should show up as Mississippi State University on the caller ID. But what we have found is that in different areas it may or may not show up. When you answer the call, the caller will identify himself or herself as a caller from the Bulldog Calling Center and have your basic information on the screen in front of them. Feel free to ask them questions.

"I also want to stress this: Each of our callers signs a confidentiality agreement when they come to work for us. The integrity of our callers is a critical part of our hiring and interview process. We want honest people doing an honest job."

What are some other things that the Annual Fund has done this year to generate funds?
"We have the Maroon Mile, the ongoing brick program. The bricks are $500 each and are laid on the Drill Field. Current students and students who have graduated within the last 12 months can purchase a brick for half price, or $250. We also offer Granite Pavers that are $1,500 each. A lot of people are buying these for students as graduation presents. We also have a lot of people who buy bricks because they are 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Bulldogs. The Maroon Mile has taken on a life of its own. All the money raised from it goes to help Student Affairs, so it's going back to improve the life of the students on campus."

The Bulldog Calling Center at Work

Caller Kimberly Mason talks about a $10,000 telefunding gift, which is one of the largest gifts ever received by a member of the Bulldog Calling Center.

How long have you been working at the Bulldog Calling Center?
"I started in January."

How did the $10,000 gift come about?
"That was during the Bulldog Club calls. When I called the individual, I told him that we were calling on behalf of the Bulldog Club and I was calling to let him know it was time for his renewal of his Bulldog Club membership. He asked me if he could do it on the phone and I told him that he could. He asked me what he gave last time and I told him $5,000. And he said 'ok, I'm going to do $10,000.' I thought it might be a pledge at first, but at the end of the call I asked him if he wanted to use the credit card option. And he said he did. We then went through the credit card process, got it confirmed and then he was sent a confirmation email.

"After that we talked about several things including the new athletic director being in (Greg Byrne) and about the president. He also asked me about my major. He was very interesting."

Obviously, you felt pretty good about the call once it was concluded. What were your thoughts once you got off the phone?
"I felt good about myself as a caller because I had only been here since January. So I thought that was an achievement in itself."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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