June 17, 2016

Will Your Boards’ Cold Call Approach Get Donors?

Attractive woman listening to a call on her mobile phone looking into the distance with a thoughtful expression “Let’s get a list of wealthy people and have staff call them for a donation.”–a-board member.  

Obtaining a list and asking every wealthy person on it for a donation seems like a logical shortcut to resolve your revenue needs.

If only it were this easy.  

Your board’s proposal is a cold-call approach to generate donors. The success rate of cold calls (actually making a sale) runs less than 5 percent based on 2,000 calls per month. (One study of experienced salespeople reported a .3 percent success rate.)

How might you respond to a board member who insists on this approach? How might you turn them towards a one-by-one, relationship-based approach? Follow Karen’s  3-step-process.

1. Affirm  

  • That your members want you to succeed and that the quickest means to succeed is the right approach.
  • The idea of asking people who have means for support.
  • The logic of the approach-many people have had this idea and tried it and the results.

2. Share the Reality

  • If all goes well, you’ll succeed 5 percent of the time.  
  • You’ll run the risk of very costly success. That is, you will establish a precedent for a $100 gift when the right amount for any given donor is 100x or even 1,000x this amount. 
  • You will experience some damage to your reputation. Some people, perhaps people who would make a large gift or even a bequest if they knew about your work, will ask to be on our “do not call list.”
  • Wealthy people set up lots of barriers to protect themselves from cold calls.
  • Any donations obtained this way are likely to be one time gifts
  • Staff doesn’t know a lot about the people on the list, including:
    • If any philanthropic interest exists since wealth does not generate it automatically. 
    • Even if philanthropic interest is evident, you don’t know if the people care about our cause.
    • Even if you’re the right cause, the potential donor is unlikely to trust you with their resources to help them meet their goals?
    • The board may know more!
  • You know better ways to raise funds that are more efficient, effective, and less labor-intensive.
  •  A version of what they are recommending works. You are going to look for people with mean and approach them to get involved. However, to be effective, you’ll add two criteria, a connection with your organization and an interest in your cause.

3. Recommend Better Alternatives  

Such as:

  • We already know people with resources, interest in our cause, and need to deepen connections. What do you think about hosting a small gathering at your home to help people know us better?
  • Let’s sit down one and one and talk about who you already know and what steps staff or you could take to invite them to be part of our work.
  • Let’s create our own list of people we have heard of, know, or should know about our work and see if we already have a connection that we can use to invite them into a relationship with us?

What you recommend will depend on your situation and the help you would most like from your board members now.

Expect this Recommendation

Anticipate that your board members and fundraising committee will suggest that you make cold calls and “gag ’em and drag ’em.” Affirm their willingness to find solutions to tackle your income challenge. Share the challenges with the common strategy. Provide an alternative that engages everyone in finding people interested and the means to support your work. Plan how you will invite and engage them. Help your board members to help you raise money.   

Find Out More

Related Articles and Videos

Why Your Board’s Unenthusiastic About Helping You to Find New Donors 

Guilty as Charged: Prove Your Board Supports Your Organization

How to Stop Your Board from Micromanaging | Good Boundaries Make Good Board Members

If you’d like to know more about better ways to work with your board, please don’t hesitate to set up a time to talk. I’d love to partner with you and your board to deliver more money into your budget.



Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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