Making cold calls intimidates 99% of the population. But it is a necessary action if you want to win grant funding so I’m going to devote this article to the topic.
One of the people I interviewed for my book is Linda Butler, a fun, kind and creative consultant based in Ohio. She is also a social worker with over 30 years of experience. She helps her clients prepare for cold calls to foundations by writing a script or doing a role play. She also helps them see how what they do already and is in their comfort zone is similar to the new thing that they are attempting. For example, they might already speak to staff at the United Way about their programs and so Linda will help them see that calling other program officers is similar.
For me, I prepare to make cold calls by remembering that it’s an interaction for greater good and to put the focus on why I’m making the phone call.
The first thing to do when you are getting ready to make a phone call that you don’t want to is to be honest with yourself about your hesitation. The reason that many of us hate this process is because it brings up other times when we have stuck our necks out and suffered as a result; whether it was the rejection in middle school by a boy or girl or ridicule of a teacher or parent when you reached beyond our bounds. When we step outside our comfort zone, it brings up those yucky memories and emotions and we back off.
I find that it really helps me to recognize that I’m feeling nervous and then acknowledge that I am now a middle-aged adult about to have a conversation with another adult about something that I’m deeply committed to. Framing it that way, helps me to step over my discomfort and make the call.
Then I try to put myself in the program officer’s shoes.
Think about the last time that you met with a program officer and recall all the banter that went on in your head, probably along the lines of “I must tell them about x, what if they ask me something I don’t know, will they think I look/sound smart, I really want them to give me a grant etc., etc., etc.” Notice that the banter is all about you? Now imagine spending your whole life interacting with people in that way. It can’t be very nice to be on the receiving end of that.
I believe that the best approach is to notice all the banter in our heads, choose to set it aside and create some space for a real connection and conversation to occur. Try assuming that the program officer is a nice person who could be earning a lot more money in private industry but decided that they wanted to work for society’s betterment. Remember that they have kids and the normal concerns that you and I have.
Imagine if you had five minutes with Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart or Cleopatra. Would you be concerned about they think of your dress? No. You’d be excited about talking to them and finding out what they think about and why. What is on their mind? What are they worried about or excited about?
Try to treat conversations with program officers this way. You have 5 minutes with Cleopatra. When you can have a conversation about what they are interested in and what motivates them it is likely to be much more interesting for you both of you.
Think big picture and have a conversation about the reason that both of you get up in morning and go to work. Question how you can help them succeed. It’s bound to be more interesting than the usual banter.