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Seniors for the Penn Fund call potential donors for fundraising. Credit: Petra Phang , Petra Phang

Within the span of just five minutes, College senior Hannah Bender managed to convince two of her friends to donate $250 each to Penn.

Bender was one of about 15 seniors who attended a calling session on Monday night for Seniors for The Penn Fund — a student fundraising group that works to collect donations from members of the senior class before they graduate.

S4TPF and a peer fundraising group, the Red and Blue Calling Crew, represent two student organizations that have helped the University throughout its Making History development campaign.

Making History reached its overall fundraising goal of $3.5 billion earlier this year, about 15 months before its scheduled close in December 2012.

John Zeller, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, said students have played a “very important role” in the march toward the end of the campaign.

While Zeller acknowledged that students aren’t responsible for much of the “heavy lifting” that goes into fundraising efforts, he said “it’s very rewarding for the entire Penn community to see undergraduates participate like this.”

Student involvement in University-wide fundraising efforts “helps connect the Penn that exists today with the more nostalgic view that some of our alumni have of campus,” added Kristin Davitt, assistant vice president for Undergraduate Programs in Development and Alumni Relations.

Wharton senior Maddy Moelis, one of S4TPF’s co-chairs, explained that the yearly goal of the fundraising group is to attract as close to 100-percent participation among the senior class as possible. The Class of 2012 consists of about 2,300 students.

As of Thursday, S4TPF had received $23,009 in donations from 590 different seniors.

While the group provides a suggested donation of $20.12 — in recognition of the graduating class of 2012 — Moelis said any amount will be accepted.

“Our goal to get everybody involved always trumps any monetary benchmarks we set,” she said.

College senior Raquel Rosenberg, vice chair of Publications and Media Organizations for S4TPF, added that the “sense of relatability that seniors can provide when speaking to other seniors … goes a long way in helping us.”

While the group has seen a slight decrease in overall participation over the past few years — from 68 percent of the Class of 2008 making a donation to 60 percent of the Class of 2011 making a donation — Jean Findlay, interim executive director of The Penn Fund, noted that last year’s fundraising total of $68,566 marked an all-time high.

Dennie Zastrow, a 2010 College graduate, current master’s candidate at Penn and assistant director of Undergraduate Participation in The Penn Fund, acknowledged that “there’s only so much you can do” when attempting to convince seniors to give back to Penn after having paid the cost of tuition over the past four years.

Because of this, Zastrow, a former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, said the group’s “more realistic” participation benchmark is to receive donations from at least 1,740 members of the senior class — a number that recognizes the year in which Penn was founded.

While the approximately 50 members of S4TPF all work on a volunteer basis, students involved with the Red and Blue Calling Crew receive monetary compensation for their efforts.

Student employees of the Red and Blue Calling Crew meet every day in a 3910 Chestnut St. office to call potential donors. Unlike S4TPF, the group is focused on soliciting donations from all Penn alumni — not just members of the senior class.

Wharton senior Jared Gumbs, one of the group’s student supervisors, explained that on any given calling night, a student caller may attempt to reach as many as 250 households.

“We’re trying to get a donation out of the phone call … but we’re also trying to build a relationship with the alumni we speak with,” Gumbs said, adding that some past student callers have even received career advice from alumni. “There aren’t a lot of other jobs like this.”

When Gumbs worked as a caller from March 2009 through March 2010, he solicited 328 pledges for a total of $56,155.

Findlay, who described Gumbs’ fundraising totals as “quite an accomplishment,” added that the results of the group as a whole have been equally as impressive. Annual fundraising totals rose from $1.6 million in Fiscal Year 2009 — which ended June 30, 2009 — to $1.7 million in FY 2010 and $2.1 million in FY 2011, she said.

For Findlay, though, “the real joy here is getting to see our students form bonds with our alumni. They become the greatest messengers and ambassadors for the needs that Penn has.”

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