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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Should You Cold Call Potential Donors?
Karen Eber Davis

July, 2016

"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 seems like a logical shortcut to resolve your revenue needs. I wish it were so.
This is essentially a cold call approach to generating 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 sales people reported a .3 percent success rate.)


How might you respond to a board member who suggests this approach? How might you turn them towards a relationship-development approach? Follow this three step-process.


  • The idea of asking people who have means for support.
  • The logic of the approach-many people have had this idea and tried it.   
Share the challenges
  • If all goes well, we will succeed 5 percent of the time.  
  • We run the risk of costly success. That is, we might establish a precedent for a $100 gift when the right amount is 100x or even 1,000x this amount. 
  • We will experience some damage. Some people will ask to be on our, "do not call list."
  • We don't know a lot about the people on the list including: 
    • Does any philanthropic interest exist, since wealth does not automatically generate it?  
    • Even with interest, does anyone on the list care about our cause? 
    • Even if we're the right cause, does the potential donor know enough about us to trust us with their resources to help them meet their goals? 
Suggest alternatives  
  • Would it be worth it to buy a list to look for connections including philanthropic interest, cause activities, and current relationships?
  • Would it be better to first examine our existing lists for the same?
  • We already know people who qualify and with whom we need to deepen connections-what do you think about hosting a small gathering to help people know us better?
Anticipate that your board members and fund raising committee will suggest that you make cold calls or "gag 'em and drag 'em." Affirm their willingness to tackle your income challenge. Share the the challenges with the strategy. Provide them with alternatives. Help your board members to help raise money.
Visit Karen at


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