It was the worst possible moment to call, thought Liz Drutschmann, as she listened to the father on the other end of the line explain that he was in a hurry.
"You happened to call just as my wife and I were leaving to visit our son's grave," Drutschmann recounts.
It was their son's birthday, and the couple prepared a birthday cake to take to his grave. He had died of an overdose.
The father's next words brought Drutschmann to tears.
"He told me he was really glad I called—that he and his wife had been meaning to get in touch with Hazelden because they wanted to make a gift in their son's memory."
Drutschmann, and her small group of colleagues who make up the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's telefund center, place hundreds of phone calls a day.
Phoning strangers—and asking them for money—isn't for the faint of heart, Drutschmann acknowledges.
"But we believe in the Foundation's mission, and so do people we talk to every day who want to share their gratitude," she says.
Mary Burke remembers the very first gift she received as a development representative for the Foundation—not the amount of the gift, but the intention.
"It came from a woman whose son was incarcerated for a drug-related offense," Burke relays. "I was so moved by the heartbreaking story she shared with me. Here was a parent who was absolutely devastated by her own situation and still wanted to help other families."
Tears-of-happiness conversations about loved ones reclaimed from addiction are equally powerful, adds development representative Karen Gale.
"People tell us all of the time that 'Hazelden saved my life' or 'My mom wouldn't be here if not for the Betty Ford Center.' And we never get tired of hearing that. It keeps us going," says Gale.
Development representatives call individuals who are connected with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in any way, whether through clinical care, family services, professional workshops, recovery events or graduate school programs.
The calls often involve more listening than talking, says Gale.
"We aren't counselors or clinicians, but we are good listeners. When I catch someone who's having a rough day, I just listen. And if they sound like they could use some help, I give them our 800 number for assistance and information."
Telefund gifts come in all sizes, and all gifts matter, says Cindy Rutledge, supervisor of the call center. Typically, telefund donations range from $1–$5,000, but there have been the occasional $10,000 gifts—and, once, a $50,000 gift.
"We see each gift as an act of gratitude and a sign of hope," says Rutledge. "It's the combined impact that ensures there will be help for the next person who turns to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation."