It happens every year. Tables are dragged out into the Great Hall and loaded with telephones. Students will be making calls on those phones continuously for five evenings. The purpose of all this calling is to raise unrestricted funds for meeting Carleton's operating costs.
The Annual Alumni Fund Phone-a-Thon is organized by Carleton's Alumni Annual Fund, an organization run mostly by volunteer Carleton alumni and a few paid staff. Its goal is to help Carleton meet its operating costs so it does not have to increase tuition. The Phone-a-Thon raises unrestricted dollars, which function differently from restricted donations. Carleton has to apply restricted donations to a particular project or department, while unrestricted donations can be applied to any part of Carleton's budget to meet its operating costs, such as heating the buildings in winter.
The Phone-a-Thon ran every evening from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday. Students had the choice of calling up alumni to ask them for donations to the fund, writing thank-you letters to volunteers and alumni who donated, or writing a letter of appreciation to a scholarship program that helped them cover the cost of their tuition. Hardworking student volunteers could take a break and enjoy some Basil's Pizza.
Gifts to Carleton College make up about 8% of the college's operating budget, says Chris Clark, director of the Annual Alumni Fund. This may not sound like much, but it's out of an operating cost of about 100 million dollars a year. That means Carleton relies on eight million dollars a year in gifts! Not all of this money is raised by the Phone-a-thon. Carleton also receives gifts from alumni other times of the year, memorial gifts, and gifts from foundations.
Students earned points for participation as well as for the number of dollars they raised for the fund. They could redeem these dollars for prizes at the auction that Friday. The volunteer auction was a celebration of the effort put in by student volunteers and included such prizes as gift certificates to Northfield stores, baked goods, and spa products. A sundae bar was served, with three flavors of ice cream and a wide variety of toppings.
The event started off with a silent auction for the smaller prizes. Students walked around the tables and wrote down their bids for various prizes. Competition for the gift certificates to the textbook store was especially stiff, with one of the certificates going for 450 participation points. The larger prizes went on silent auction afterwards. These prizes included Select Comfort Sleep Number Beds, larger gift certificates, and rides to the airport. The tickets to the Minnesota Timberwolves game went for 1278 points after stiff competition.
The winners of the competition for participation points were also announced at this auction. The top three volunteers for the Phone-a-Thon were Peter Watson, Tenzin Desa, and Nate Asp, who each won gift certificates do the textbook store. The top volunteering teams were the Butter Burgers and Rice 203, who won dinner with President Oden and a bowling party with the deans, respectively.
Nate Asp was the top-scoring individual volunteer with 2,854 participation points. He worked three of the five days for three hours each, for a total of "maybe nine hours." What will he do with all his participation points? "Maybe one of the gift baskets and a Sleep Number bed."