Connecting with Alumni
Dan Lyons ’12 sets a fundraising record
As a freshman, Dan Lyons ’12 struck out badly on his first day as a caller asking for support for the UMass Amherst Annual Fund. “I spoke to 20 people,” he recalls, “and I was refused 20 times.” This January, as a senior, Lyons became the first caller to raise $500,000 in Annual Fund donations, crushing the previous record of $280,000.The difference, he says, is that he learned to “go off the script” and talk with potential donors about shared UMass experiences. “I like to keep it jovial,” he says.
Along with his genuine interest in others, Lyons’s warm, mellow speaking voice and his compelling personal story facilitate his fundraising. A management major at the Isenberg School of Management, Lyons splits the cost of college with his family; he paid for his half through his job at the Annual Fund Phone Program and through summer employment. Last year, he won a Kevin R. Sullivan Memorial Scholarship, which enabled him to accept an unpaid summer internship at a law firm. “If it weren’t for the generosity of others, my experience here would be much different,” he tells alumni, parents, and friends of UMass Amherst.
Working the phone in the basement of Memorial Hall, Lyons recently connected with a grad who remembered Julius Erving ’86UWW, ’86G (Hon.) blowing by him on the basketball court for a dunk and another alumnus who actually created the software that student callers use in their work. “You never know who you’ll talk with on any given night,” he says.
Lyons is one of 120 student employees of the Annual Fund’s Phone Program. Sarah Sligo ’00, executive director of annual giving and a former student caller, reports that the effort raises $2 million each year. But what really makes the phone program the foundation of campus philanthropy, Sligo says, is not dollars, but numbers of donors. Students speak with 73,000 people a year and 38 percent of those connections result in pledges.
Now that he’s reached the $500,000 mark, Lyons aspires to raise $550,000 for the Annual Fund before he graduates in May. He’ll then go to work for the Start Group in Andover, a recruitment firm founded by Mark Eldridge ’88, where Lyons will again be working the phones.