Firms Lend Teleservices Muscle to 'Tribute' Telethon

Companies nationwide volunteered their teleservices capabilities for “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” one of the largest fundraising telethons in U.S. history — an effort that produced 300,000 inbound calls in the first 15 minutes alone.

“America: A Tribute to Heroes” was shown on 35 television channels on Friday evening. It raised money for relief and recovery from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The telethon reached about 89 million viewers, had an average audience of 59.3 million and raised more than $150 million. Overall, 38,000 people nationwide participated as telephone agents, answering inbound calls to toll-free hotlines established by telecommunications providers AT&T and WorldCom.

One call center in Dallas reported collecting more than $1 million in donations in the first hour, according to telethon organizers.

Companies that provided teleservices facilities and agents for the telethon included AT&T, WorldCom, CapitalOne, Verizon, Bank of America and CRM agency Convergys. AT&T recruited some of its clients, including Geico, Disney and Marriott International, to contribute their call center seats and employees.

About 3,000 Convergys employees at 16 call centers responded to a company call for volunteers. The company told employees that 2,000 would be needed, but 1,000 more employees asked to be part of the event.

The extra hands were needed because in the first five hours of heavy calling Convergys processed about 125,000 responses, or about seven calls per second. Convergys and the other firms that provided teleservices capabilities had only 72 hours to prepare for the calls.

AT&T volunteered eight call centers and about 2,000 employees to staff phones during the telethon. The AT&T employees were volunteers and were not strictly members of the company's teleservices division.

“None of those people were operators by training,” said AT&T spokesman Jeff Roberts, who himself participated at an AT&T call center in New York eight blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. “We all took a crash course and put on a headset.”

Cooperation among the companies that lent teleservices facilities for the telethon was remarkable, Roberts said. For example, WorldCom and AT&T are typically competitors in the telecommunications business, one of the nation's most fiercely contested industries.

“Typically, we're all competitors,” he said. “We put all that aside and worked for the common good.”

The two-hour event was hosted by celebrities including Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and George Clooney and featured performances by musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and Faith Hill.

Money raised by the telethon will benefit the United Way's September 11th Fund. Donations continue to be accepted online at

In addition to the broadcast and cable stations that carried the show, it aired on more than 8,000 radio stations and was Webcast on Yahoo. It was available in more than 200 countries; however, viewership and listenership statistics outside the United States were unavailable.

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