7 tips for taking the shivers out of cold calls

Even seasoned fundraisers find cold calls a challenge. For newcomers to development, breaking the ice on new relationships is downright frightening. It’s little wonder that the support base of most ministries doesn’t vary much from one year (or decade) to the next. Life is cozy in the warm welcome of old friends.

stick_figures_sitting_on_the_beach_with_a_table_8153 But then comes stagnant donor lists and plateaued giving, with nary a new gift in sight. All due to too many cups of coffee around familiar tables.

As an encouragement to fundraisers to go where they’ve not gone before, I’ve identified 7 tips for taking the shivers out of cold calls. Follow these 7 and grow your base — without chills.


1.  Cherry pick your list. Begin with your best prospects and look for the cornerstone visit. Once you have the big one scheduled, fill in with prospects about whom you have less information or with existing donors with whom you already have a relationship.

2.  Fill your schedule with prospects for whom you have a “news” hook. That is, relevant and timely information that builds on their previous interaction with your ministry.

3.  Recognize that you may be the first “live” contact with the organization in a very long time, maybe ever. Don’t assume deep knowledge  (any knowledge) of your organization and its work. The first visit is about qualifying capacity, as much (or more) than securing a gift. This includes determining interest, inclination to make a gift, and the individual’s passions and potential fit with your organization’s priorities and programs.

4.  Make setting appointments a priority. Get excited about your trip. Block out your travel time each month. Set aside time during the week, usually several hours, for setting appointments.

5.  Think about how you’ll introduce yourself.  Then put the words into a telephone script, email message, or letter.  If this is your first visit, explain your purpose in broad terms. “I am meeting with people who’ve supported (name of organization) in the past with a gift to (purpose).”

6.  Sometimes a phone call will do. If your goal in reaching out is to test a prospect’s interest level in knowing more about your ministry, beginning with a telephone call can be effective – and especially if there would have been a travel involved. A plane ticket or road trip may be in order, but that’s for another day.

7.  Yes, no, maybe. After three attempts to connect, move on. If a prospect declines to meet with you, record the reason in their electronic file. For those you suspect have an interest, but are not available to meet during this trip, flag for future trips.

So cough up your objections and give these tips a try. You may find yourself warming to cold calls.


  1. I have difficulty warming up to receiving cold calls.

    • Thanks for responding from a donor perspective. It’s helpful to hear how advice to fundraisers sounds to the ears of a generous giver like you. At what stage in your giving to an organization are you open to a visit from a development officer? Are there organizations from which you would never welcome a gift and some that you wonder why they haven’t called? What do you find most helpful when a development officer stops by? Conversely, least helpful? I think there could be a great blog post in this if you’re open to discussion these questions with me.

  2. Excellent! I have especially learned to book my “cornerstone” appointment first and then build from there. Thanks for the information and confirmation.

  3. Jim Wiegner says:

    Well thought out and practical. I have printed these out and will take them with me! Great reminders to keep you on task. Thanks

What's your take on this topic?

%d bloggers like this: