Monday, March 20, 2006

Strapped for cash

I finally made it to the fundraising list.

I suppose I should be flattered that USC thinks I've made enough money by now to consider giving any of it back to them. (They should really concentrate more of their efforts on graduates from their professional schools.) Or maybe ticked that they have the nerve to ask me for money when I was still paying them thousands of dollars per year as of 3 years ago and, for all they know, could still be paying that money back in the form of student loans, and will for years to come. And just a little weirded out that they got their hands on my cell number, which I don't remember giving to them. Shouldn't my parents be suffering this call instead of me? But mostly, I'm amused. Whoever arranged for students to call and wrote their script knew what they were doing. A quick analysis:

1. Get your foot in the door by immediately identifying yourself as an undergraduate from the prospect's alma mater. Awww.

2. Allay their suspicions of fundraising by asking if they'd participate in a short survey. Just a couple minutes of their time would be much appreciated.

3. Ask easy, nostalgia-inducing questions. Did you enjoy your time at USC? Did your follow our football team this past season? And have you been on campus at all recently and seen all the new construction and campus improvements?

4. Enthusiastic responses to the answers, be they yes or no. They're your ticket to the segue to...

5. Asking for a lot of money. $125 in honor of USC having its 125th anniversary last year. And when you get turned down,

6. Totally go with it, and ask for a lot less money. Not just less money, but a nostalgic amount of money: $20.03, as a tribute to the year they graduated. And when you get turned down again,

7. Be ok with it, and launch into how important it is to stay involved with USC, and how it was ranked 30th by US News and World Report last time and how involvement of alumni helps that rating improve and just a small gift of only $5 would indicate your involvement...

8. And when you get turned down again, now's the time for the guilt trip. Not even $5? You'd really be helping... are you sure you can't even give that much?

At which point I totally shut down the junior who said she was in Annenberg and said no, not even that much. I'm sure that, had I caved, she would have immediately started trying to upsell me, because once you get someone's permission for something small, it's a lot easier to get them to agree to something a little bigger. Yeah, I've read Robert Cialdini's book too, and know that that's also why the conversation started off with a survey, so I'd let my guard down (surveys are also a very successful direct mail tactic, particularly in B to B--not only does it generate more leads, but you give the sales team exactly the information they need to construct the right pitch). And another rule taken advantage of is that of contrast: she began with a big number like $125 and dropped it down to only $20... that contrast makes that $20 sound a lot more acceptable than it would if that were the starting bid.

I suppose I should've caved. I mean, I did have a good time in undergrad, I went to at least half the football games this past season, and was on campus for a number of those because, well, it's almost unavoidable when you go to home games. I'm even sitting here in a USC sweatshirt as I write this, one that I won in a raffle that my mom entered me into at an alumni function a few years ago. I should give back. And I will. One of these days. But that USC education has to be worth something: Professor McClure recommended Cialdini to me way back when (Guns, Germs and Steel, too--dude knows what he's talking about), and today, it saved me $5.

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