Kristen C KennedyKristen says,

“I used to hate cold calling.  I thought picking up the phone and calling people was miserable.  I dreaded it and would find a million reason why I didn’t have time to make calls.  Then I realized I was going completely fail at fundraising if I didn’t figure out how to push through my anxiety about it.  In fact, I think I even made it my New Year’s resolution to stop whining about cold calling.

Over the years I’ve developed systems to help me feel better about reaching out to cold (and even warm) prospects.  These systems were developed from hours of sitting at my desk with my headset on dissecting my fears.

Now, I’m completely fine with cold calling. 
I don’t love it but I don’t hate it either and I definitely don’t have any problem doing it.  It’s just part of my day, like documenting donor conversations in my database or working on a proposal.

What I learned is that cold calling is the not so fun part of my job that gets me to the other side…the fun part…the relationship building stuff, which is what I love about fundraising.” Come to Kristen Kennedy’s session at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit for more!


Join us at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit and LEARN:

How to Get the Meeting with Your Major Donor

In this session we’ll cover cold calling, scripts, and more to help you get the face-to-face meeting and make your case for support with a major donor.  If you’ve ever wondered how to get your foot in the door, attend this session!  You’ll take away strategies for

– fearlessly making cold calls

– creating foolproof systems to manage your prospecting efforts

– energizing yourself and your team to be consistent and persistent with your individual donor plan

Interview Transcript below!

MT: Everybody, welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising, and today I have the pleasure and the privilege of interviewing Kristen C. Kennedy who is Director of Development at University of Reno, Nevada in the College of Education.

Kristen and I met in April in Reno. We were both presenting at an AFP day there. I just was so blown away by her session on how to get major gifts through the phone. She has worked for University of Reno for over ten years, as well as Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, and before that, she was in sales. So Kristen, is there anything else you’d like to share about your incredible success with major gifts to people listening?

KK: I’ve been doing major gifts for quite some time now. I feel like along the way, I’ve developed some systems and kind of evolved my style a little bit and found some things that worked for me. I hope that I can share that with all of you and help you be more successful and build on what you’re already doing to become even more successful at just being consistent and with reaching out to your major gift donors or donor prospects. Maybe you don’t even know them yet, and building their relationship with them so that you can get those major gifts coming to your organization.

MT: I love that. You know, you said in your session that you had actually made a phone call to a person who wasn’t even an alumni of your school and he made a significant gift.

KK: Right, yes. So he was an alum of the university but he wasn’t an alum of the college that I was working in at the time. We had a new program that we were developing around entrepreneurship. So I did some mining of our database to find anybody in the database that had owner, co-owner, president, founder in their constituent title. I just started doing my own Google research, cold calling. But first I was writing letters introducing myself, then following up with a phone call. I have some systems for that and I’m happy to share that with you. But you know, through this process, this gentleman had received a letter from me. When I called, he was expecting my call. I called on a day I said I was going to call.

He basically told me nicely over the phone that he wasn’t interested in giving. But in that conversation, one of the things that I always do is I look for a nugget, I call it. It’s a little piece of information that I can build on to create the relationship, to drive the next step. So my nugget in that conversation was that he and his wife had lived in some apartment complex close to the University. I went and took a picture and I wrote him this nice thank you letter for spending time with me on the phone. I included the picture and I said, hey, for kicks, I thought you might appreciate this.

He wrote me back this really heartfelt letter and said that why that apartment was so significant was because he and his wife had just gotten married, jumped in their U-Haul, drove to Reno, and that’s where they lived the whole time they were here going to school. They just loved it. Anyway, he said, “To reward your sleuthing, here’s $100,000.” Which then I continued to look for nuggets and build that relationship and we turned it into a $1 million gift. That was all just cold calling and being really organized about it and following up on it. I didn’t even meet him until he came to deliver the $1 million. It was all over the phone.

MT: Wow. So I can hear some people in the back of their minds, Kristen, being like, oh. That’s all very well for a university to do that. But I’m just a small nonprofit and I could never replicate Kristen’s success because I don’t have a database of people that have that same capacity to give, or you know, is it really applicable? Should I listen to her? I don’t know.

KK: Right, and I totally get that. I think that in my session, I have a lot of tips for the smaller nonprofits because I did work for Habitat for Humanity and in the Boys and Girls Club. So I completely understand and get the struggle. How do you find the names? How do you get the data? How do you build relationships when you really don’t have any information about people? You don’t even know where to start sometimes. So I definitely have thought about that. I have some great ideas based on my experiences. So I can’t wait to share that.

MT: Yes, I agree. I saw you speak in Reno and you really gave some very concrete tools, tips, handouts, worksheets that people could use to really attract their major donor. Sort of strategies and relationship building processes.

KK: Yeah, and that’s really being organized about it and just staying on top of it. Whatever size organization you work in, that’s really what is key.

MT: Another thing that I liked, because you even had scripts that people could use for these calls. I was like, ooh, yeah. Because that’s a scary thing to call someone up and be like, so, you don’t know me, but…

KK: I think that that is the hardest part about reaching out. Picking up the phone to – whether it’s cold calling or it might be warm calling. You might have already met somebody but you’re not really prepared with what’s the next step. So you procrastinate. You hesitate on it because your brain is creating obstacles. So my hope is to get people fearless about what they are doing, and the way to do that is to make them comfortable. Give them some tools to help them feel comfortable so that they have the courage to say, I am going to do this and I’m not going to let not being prepared stop me because I’m going to be prepared.

We’ll talk about that. But also the fear of just somebody saying no, or they’re going to know that I want money from them. So we’ll discuss all that and try to get stronger and fearless about our approach.

MT: I love that. That’s so exciting. Your session at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit I know is going to be fantastic. We’re actually going to be building on what Ellen Bristol will be teaching us about how to actually track sort of where your relationships are with your major gifts. So she’s going to be doing a session on like not just a move as a phone call or a move as a note that you send someone. Like traditional moves management. But she’ll be doing a session on first, do we like them? That’s the first step. Then do they like us? Then how we move down the pipeline. It’s a five step process.

So do you have like a database that tracks this? Because she made an app about that. Or do you have a special thing that you do aside from your spreadsheets?

KK: Well, I do work in a database. I think that sometimes people kind of have their own ways of using their database to benefit them and what they’re comfortable with. So I do. I do have a database. But I find for myself, I have my own little systems and a couple spreadsheets that I use that are simple. They are just simple, but they just help. They are there. They help keep me organized and together. One of the tips that I have, and that I always use, and I will stress this in the session, is when you’re in the heat of prospecting and kind of spending some time making some calls or writing some letters, sending emails, whatever you are doing, and you have to move on to something else because executive directors and development directors, they wear many hats.

It’s time to move on to something else. I always say, write down what you’re going to do tomorrow. Do it today so that you don’t lose your pace, and so before you kind of get done with your cold calling or whatever you are doing, figure out. Make a list. Figure out who am I going to call the next day? So that you’re ready to go. But that takes a lot of strategizing and kind of documenting a strategy, documenting your moves. All those things that Ellen is going to talk about come into play in making your to-do list for tomorrow. Making it today. There’s a lot more to that than just writing down names. You have to have all those moves and those strategies and you have to have that documented somewhere, and it all kind of comes together.

MT: Yeah. So what I’m hearing is that you don’t necessarily need a humongous database to get this done.

KK: No.

MT: You just need your own system.

KK: Right, your own system, and make it as simple for yourself as possible.

MT: I love that. One thing we talked about before we turned on the recording, which I feel like we should say, is some people in the nonprofit world think that what we’re doing – major gifts – is not sales. They think that it’s way different and that they could not learn anything from the for-profit sector. Since you have experience in both worlds, what would you say to that?

KK: I think that the sales background I have has served me really well in the nonprofit world. I take a lot of strategies away from what I learned in sales. So I think that the reason that we sometimes say it’s so different is sales can be very transactional. Fundraising is very much relationship based and less transactional, and very also kind of personal and emotional. Whereas sometimes sales is about just a very logical return on investment, where philanthropy is very emotional. So while maybe some of the motivations and those types of things are very different, and you have to understand that, because that comes into kind of the art of fundraising.

There is a lot of the science behind fundraising and sales that are very similar and that transfer well between the two.

MT: I agree with you. I feel like if we could be more entrepreneurial in our nonprofits, operate more like businesses. I mean, I think businesses could learn from us and I think we can learn from them too. I don’t think it’s a one way situation here.

KK: I agree completely.

MT: So for executive directors who do major gifts, or the one person shop, what are they going to get out of your session? Because you have a whole university behind you and you have your college that you’re fundraising for. You have other peers that you can talk with about this. What can they hope to get from this?

KK: Right. Well, I think they can look for ways that are going to maybe create some – well, I guess we can’t ever really create more time than there is. But help them figure out ways to carve out time in their day to do this important job. To think about, also, who am I? Sometimes we like to just kind of call the people we know and work with the people we know and the donors that we already have. But I think I’m going to open their eyes to this whole – to an idea that there’s way more out there. There’s way more opportunity than we think out there. In fact, on average, nonprofit organizations – I have to look up the statistic. But I want to say they did this study on averages of budgets of $2 million.

Organizations of $2 million, around that size. The average face to face meeting that executive directors and development directors were having with the donor base was about 9% of the donor base. So I think there’s a ton of opportunity to reach out and call those donors, set up those face to face meetings. But it’s about knowing who and figuring out how, and getting organized so that you’re productive in your time. That’s a lot of information for one session, I think. I think you could do like ten sessions on all of that. But you know, we’ll have fun kind of simplifying it so that you know kind of what your next step is.

So when you get done with my session, you can go back to your organization and have a couple next steps that aren’t going to be painful and that you’re going to feel like you can breathe a little bit and not have that anxiety about how to go about making cold calls or warm calls. It’s interesting, kind of. We talked before we started the recording about how do you define that? In my eyes, it’s like, the time you spent kind of reaching out to those donors and donor prospects. That’s what I term as kind of cold calling. It might be kind of cold emailing. We’ll talk about that a little bit more in the session.

MT: Right, and for those of us who think that cold calling has no place in fundraising, I say, you’re reaching out to them for a reason. It’s not like you’re just taking Joe Blow off the street and saying, give to my nonprofit. There are many nonprofits that have great success with that, too, like Save the Children and so on. But it feels like people can learn a lot about overcoming their fears when they come to your session. I know I am personally extremely afraid of picking up the phone and calling a person. I’m selfishly hoping to get a lot out of your session as well.

KK: Good!

MT: But one of the things, hopefully, people can take away as well is when Ellen talks about her system. She’s actually got an app that she’s putting together for all these different donor databases so they can start to track what they’re going to be learning at your session. We’re also going to have a guy named Justin Handley talk about how to do more automated emails to engage your donors. That’s something that Bloomerang is going to be beta doing in their software as well. So that’s really exciting. The beginning of next year, they’re going to start rolling that out.

So I’m psyched for them. I’m psyched for you. Thank you. Thank you so much for agreeing to present at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit. Exciting!

KK: Thank you. I look so forward to it. It’s going to be super fun.


Kristen Kennedy has worked in fundraising for over a decade serving as Grant Writer for Habitat for Humanity of Missoula, Montana, Director of Development for the University of Nevada, Reno Colleges of Business, Liberal Arts, and Education, and Director of Resource Development at the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows. Formerly, she was the Vice President of North American Operations for Principa. Kristen has degrees in International Affairs and Spanish from the University of Nevada, Reno and an MBA from the University of Montana. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Sierra Chapter.

Nonprofit leadership summit