Student Caller at University of Illinois Sets Fundraising Success Record

Feb 21, 2011 08:00 AM

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.“—Aristotle

Zachary Grotovsky, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a habit. A good one.

The 23-year-old German major from Mokena, Ill., is a student caller for the University of Illinois Foundation. He recently wrapped up a wildly successful fall semester, prompting the Foundation’s calling center to rename its top fundraiser award the Zachary Grotovsky Excellence Award. Grotovsky was recognized for his accomplishment during a gathering of more than 100 UIF employees in December.

Maggie Unsworth, associate vice president for annual giving for the U of I Foundation, said Grotovsky raised $159,930 last fall. An average student caller brings in about $12,500 in the fall semester. Grotovsky has raised $261,270 in his three years as a caller.

“This is an important job that these students do. It’s also a tough job and for a student to raise a quarter of a million dollars is incredible,” Unsworth said.

The Foundation has about 100 student callers. They work 12 hours a week—three four-hour shifts. Some students, such as Grotovsky, work additional shifts when they can.

His direct supervisor, Jana Masley, manager of telemarketing for the Foundation, said Grotovsky “connects with people very well and I think it’s because he is a very well-rounded person.”

Grotovsky brings to the classroom at the U of I and his job as a student caller a solid background and a wide range of interests and experiences that have played a role in his success.

As a student at Lincoln-Way East High School, he was a four-year swimmer who recalls completing his first practice without goggles —“It was bad; I couldn’t see the rest of the day“—to getting elected captain of his team in his senior year. A member of the school principal’s leadership team, he credits his passion for the German language and the importance of multicultural experience and understanding to his high school teacher, Amy Ficarello.

His hectic high school schedule, he said, laid the foundation for his success at Illinois. “I’m used to long days and that’s one of the reasons that I like to keep myself busy here,” he said.

When he’s not working the phones at the Foundation’s calling center, Grotovsky, the first in his family to attend college, is busy wrapping up his bachelor’s degree in German language and literature, and student teaching at University Laboratory High School on campus. He intends to attend graduate school and become a teacher. He plans to teach English abroad and then return to work in the United States.

He’s had significant international experience. He studied abroad in the 2008-09 academic year, immersing himself in the German language in Vienna, Austria. There he taught English in a second grade classroom. “I had never taught English before, but it really gave me a new perspective on the language because I had to find certain methods that would help the students remember,” Grotovsky said.

While in Austria, he befriended an Austrian family and, thanks to a ski instructor that Grotovsky helped with his English skills, got an aerial view of Vienna and its outskirts in the Austrian’s Cessna.

“I knew the only way to make the most out of that experience there, especially since I was there to learn German, was to make friends and acquaintances with people who speak German every day,” he said.

Last summer Grotovsky added to his international resume by serving an internship in Austria. There he assisted with a cultural exchange program, working primarily with Ukrainian students. Other students, he said, hailed from England, Italy, Lithuania, and several other European nations. “It gave me a really good view of multiculturalism, and I am a big fan,” he said.

In addition to German, which Grotovsky has studied for eight years, he is picking up another language—Polish. He credits friends in Warsaw, Poland, for inspiring him to learn the language.

But it is his English skills that have made a difference in the Foundation’s telemarketing efforts. “I try to engage every single person that I talk to on the phone. And it can be the smallest connection that really sparks a deep conversation,” Grotovsky said. “And if that means I talk to someone on the phone for an hour and get no pledge, well, they’re that much more likely to pledge next time. I feel that is a big part of this job because it really isn’t only about the pledges; it’s about having that deep relationship with the alum.”

“Zach is a very friendly person who is genuinely interested in other people,” said Unsworth. “He’s one of the most curious people I’ve met, and he’s a really good listener. I think that’s a strong combination when he’s on the phone because he’s very good with people.”

Last semester, Grotovksy netted 667 pledges. In his career, he’s pulled in 1,632 pledges. In its history, UIF has two other callers who’ve achieved more than 1,000 pledges. One of them had 1,001 pledges and the other has landed 1,228—and counting.

In addition to his classes and student teaching in the current semester, Grotovsky said he plans to pick up a few shifts weekly at the Foundation’s calling center.

“Every year I am amazed by what our students can accomplish,” said Masley. “To say that there will never be another student of Zach’s caliber is not fair to those in the early stages of their philanthropy careers or to those who have yet to discover it. However, I am sure that we will tell Zach’s story for many semesters to come, and his accomplishments will inspire his fellow students and future students at the U of I Foundation.”

  • Student callers at the U of I Foundation brought in $1.58 million in the recently concluded fall semester.
  • For the current fiscal year, more than 10,840 pledges have been made.
  • Since the calling center opened in 1985, 91,847 donors made their first gift to the U of I though the center. To date, those donors have contributed $98 million.

For additional Information, contact:

John Fundator
Senior Communications Specialist
University of Illinois Foundation