How to Make a Cold Call

Today we are going to talk about how to make a cold call. First we will discuss what a cold call is, and then we will go through tactics to make cold calling more effective.


Your nonprofit organization is trying to find sponsors for their annual gala and you are asked to make some cold calls. Quite frankly, you aren’t a hundred percent sure what a cold call is, but more than that…

Are cold calls even effective?

How can I make cold calling more effective?

Here, let’s talk about it.

First of all, what is a cold call.

A cold call is an unsolicited call to someone in an attempt to have them donate to your organization, buy a good, or otherwise help your nonprofit organization. Basically this means that you are going to call someone out of the blue and ask them for money or a service.

Hmm… that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

“Hello, I’m Stephanie. Do you want to give me $1000? $2000?”

“Oh, uhh… you don’t know who I am? You don’t know this nonprofit that I’m working for?”

“Oh… uhhh… bye!”

Okay, I hope that none of your cold calls sound like that, but it gets the point across, right? Cold calls can be awkward and ineffective, especially if you don’t know how to make one.

So, you’re making a cold call…

*Ring, Ring, Ring*


Hello, this is Stephanie Tanner with The Foundation for Zitty Adolescent Humpback Whales.”(Is that a ridiculous enough name that its obvious that this is made up?)”Do you have 5 minutes now or at a future time that I can talk to you about helping us save Bartholomew, a zitty humpback whale in need of serious zit cream?”

“Uh, I’m busy right now”

“Oh, don’t worry, I can call you at a time that works for you.”

“Okay, can you call me tomorrow at 1:30?”

“Most definitely, I’ll call you then. Thank you!”

Okay, so you have less than 24 hours before you call back. Let’s make a plan for your call step-by-step:

Step 1: The Introduction

The way you introduce yourself, your organization, and your purpose are extremely important for every cold call you will ever make. Be as clear and concise about who you are and why you are calling. If you’ve done your research on each person that you are calling, you should know why you are calling them. Are you calling them because they have a connection to the purpose of your organization? Perhaps you can mention that in the first 30 seconds, so that it peaks their interest. Are you calling them because they live in the area that you serve? Perhaps that is what you want to mention.

The key here is to make your introduction appealing to the specific individual that you are calling, and also make it short, sweet, and to the point.

Step 2: The Conversation

1. Using Questions

Once you get through the introduction you’ll need to know how you are going to proceed with the conversation. One option is to ask them some questions in order to open the dialogue. For instance, you might ask them if they have heard about your organization or if they know about the issues that your organization is addressing in their community.

In my example above, I might ask whomever I called if they knew that adolescent whales have a lot of the same issues that human beings have as they are going through puberty and that it is a really sensitive time of their life. Do you (the person on the other end of the line) remember what it was like to be a zitty teenager? (Haha, as I wrote the example above, I didn’t realize I was going to carry it through these steps, so sorry about that! And no, I don’t know anything about whales, but I’m pretty sure they don’t get zits OR have adolescent problems like humans :)).

2. Remain Conversational

While making cold calls, it is important to be informative and objective. If the person that you are talking to gets defensive or skeptical about what you are discussing, you don’t want to become defensive back. You don’t want to push the person against his or her own desires, but you want to open their eyes and persuade them. If you criticize or become defensive, you can severely damage your chances of creating a relationship or receiving a donation.

2a. Listen

It is important to listen to the person that you are talking to. You don’t want to make a one-sided sales pitch for why they should donate to your organization without listening to their perspective.

2b. Inform

In addition to listening, it is important to be informative and knowledgeable. You want to be able to answer any questions that the prospective donor might have about your organization and the funds. It is extremely likely that they will ask how their money will be used.

Step 3: Invite

After you have a conversation about the organization and the purpose of your call, you can invite the prospective donor to either donate or learn more about your organization. The latter is a great way to give yourself a second chance at receiving a donation even if the individual isn’t ready to commit just yet. Do they want to do some research on their own and you can call them back in a couple of days? Would they like you to send them information about your organization and where the donations go? Would they like to come to the organization and see what you do? Would they like to be involved in your upcoming event?

Step 4: Keep in Touch

It is important that you cultivate a relationship so that next time you are needing to call people, it doesn’t always have to be cold calls. If you can make this one cold call into a relationship, then next time it will be a warm call. Some ways that you can do this is to keep in touch with this individual. If they aren’t interested in donating today, ask them if you can call them in a few months. Take notes and don’t let the conversation end forever once you say goodbye.

In summary, lets go over the steps of a cold call in more general terms. First off, you want to concisely introduce yourself, your organization, and the purpose of your call. (Think of this first step as your elevator pitch. You have 30 seconds – 1 minute to get your point across). Secondly, you want to create an open dialogue about with questions and conversation to build a relationship. Then, after you have made a connection and had a bit of a conversation, you move forward to the point of your call. Ask them what you are wanting to ask… whether that is if they are willing to make a donation or whatever it might be. Finally, keep in touch with the person you called. If you can keep a bit of a relationship going with the person you cold called, then next time you turn to them it won’t be a cold call!