Thun­der­bird School of Glob­al Man­age­ment: a 24-hour telethon to save their famous tower

Exhibited by
Keith C Kerber, assistant director annual giving, Thunderbird School of Global Management.
June 10, 2012
Medium of Communication
Event, telephone
Target Audience
Individuals, single gift
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
March, 2009

SOFII’s view

SOFII loves the brave trialling of new ideas, and this is one. There’s not much that’s new in alumni fundraising nor in running a ‘phoneathon’, but a 24-hour telephonic marathon so that you can call all your alumni wherever in the world they might be, that’s an idea well worth trying. We also liked the thoughtful inspiration of holding a barbeque for everyone at the end of the campaign, outside the building they’d just saved.

Creator / originator

Keith Kerber, (advancement staff lead), along with students Andrew Burman, Jessica Friedman and Will Counts.

Summary / objectives

On 21 to 22 March we executed a 24-hour phonathon to ask alumni of the Thunderbird School of Global Management for their financial support for the restoration of the Tower Building on the school campus. The phonathon was staffed by 90 student volunteers and most phoned for about two to four hours each. The event was from 3pm on Saturday to 3pm on Sunday and ended with a celebration barbeque right outside the Tower Building.

The phonathon was created to raise awareness among global alumni about a building restoration project and to raise funds for the project.


The Tower Building stands at the centre of the Thunderbird campus and is the most iconic building of the community. The building was the air control tower when the school was a pilot training base during the Second World War. It was condemned in 2006 due to loss of structural integrity. Students in the classes of 2008 and 2009 caught a vision to restore ‘The Tower to its former glory but with a much lower carbon footprint. These students were eager to use a 24-hour phonathon to raise funds for the Tower and to ‘get the word out’ to the school’s alumni. The advancement office wanted to encourage their zeal and thus provided oversight of the phonathon as part of the overall development efforts of the school.

A major donor and alumnus had previously given a major gift to fund architectural drawings and design sketches. He indicated interest in providing a significant gift for this project also, but wanted to see broad support from others, particularly alumni, before he was willing to give the large gift. Thus, the student leaders came up with the idea of the 24-hour phonathon to engage more students as well as alumni.  

Special characteristics

Thunderbird School of Global Management has an alumni population that is fairly unique among schools of higher education. Of the 29,000 alumni who are potential donors, more than 7400 (26 per cent) live outside the United States in more than 140 countries. This means that we cannot reach them by telephone during a typical work day and evening hours. The 24-hour telephone campaign was an attempt to reach alumni located all over the world in a short period of time.

In planning we indicated the approximate local time we would call specific countries. Student leaders then recruited student volunteers who could speak the native language of the countries we intended to call during specific time periods.  

Influence / impact

While the final amount raised was not as high as hoped the event sparked enthusiasm on the campus among students, faculty, and staff. Most of the student volunteers reported having good conversations with alumni. Updating contact information was a very helpful secondary outcome for our database management.

The effort raised awareness among the alumni, through the calls and through stories posted on social media networks and published in Thunderbird’s twice yearly magazine. In fact, several gifts were inspired by the story and were sent using the magazine reply device.

Moreover, the effort had a strong degree of influence on the major donor mentioned above and several months later he and his wife gave $2 million toward the project, which is more than 75 per cent of what is needed, and allowed for construction to begin.  


$1000 for food and incentive prizes; $1100 for telephone calling charges; $850 for printing charges (alumni profiles).


Revenue raised in gifts and specified pledges: $21,200. Number of donors: 158 alumni (21 committed to an unspecified pledge).
Number of gifts from donors living outside the USA: 63.
Number of gifts from donors domiciled in the USA.: 95.
Approximate number of alumni contacted: 368 - USA; 371 - international contacts made in more than 65 countries.
Volunteer hours contributed: >220 (independent sector value: $4292).
Countries represented by callers: 23. 


This was an innovative event that found a way to reach diverse alumni located on nearly every part of globe. It introduced students to a way to participate in philanthropy while connecting with alumni over a common point of interest.

Other relevant information

Thunderbird School of Global Management has been ranked no.1 in international business for 14 consecutive years.

The Thunderbird Tower appeal has tangible objectives and transformational plans. But can you really call all your alumni around the world in one 24-hour marathon session? See below for links to detailed exhibits that show what really went on in this successful campaign.