Lessons in Cold-Calling

by Natalie Grammer, FCLC ’21

Hi, my name is Natalie Grammer and I’m calling from the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. How are you? (wait for a response) Is there a manager or store owner I could speak with? (wait) I’m just reaching out to see if you would be interested in participating in our upcoming Week of Hope, a mental health awareness campaign, which culminates in our annual 5K Race of Hope on Sunday, August 4th 

These words, shakily spoken on my end of a landline telephone, left my mouth at least 506 times in the span of my first 50 hours of work this summer. The script became so ingrained in my brain that I didn’t have to reference my initial training document to write the above paragraph. When I started to write: “Hi, my name is,” the rest of the script just fell into place. 

This summer I interned at the Hope for Depression Research Foundation: a mental health nonprofit based in New York City. At the office, I spent the majority of my 10:00am-2:00pm shift cold-calling the small businesses of Southampton, NY. Southampton hosts HDRF’s biggest fundraising event of the summer: our annual 5K race. Prior to this one race, we put on a series of community engagement and awareness campaigns consolidated as the Week of Hope.  My job was to recruit stores and businesses on the main streets of the town to participate by agreeing to let HDRF place a large yellow “HOPE” balloon in front of individual storefronts. No donation was required to participate in this campaign; the town of Southampton had approved it, the balloons were eco-friendly, anchored down, and reusable, and we would set up and take down the balloon for participating businesses. While this may seem like a win-win situation (we get participation in an HDRF initiative, we spark a conversation about mental health through a visual marketing campaign, and businesses merely have to offer agreement to participate), the conversational dynamic of the cold call complicated my task. 

Not many business owners and managers like to be asked, unsolicited, unprepared, to participate in a non-profit campaign. Especially, not when they don’t immediately know that you, the cold caller, are not asking for money. Naturally, this led to a wide array of responses on the other end of the phone. From screaming at me that I didn’t want people to be able to afford their rent (again, I did not ask for donations), to laughing that they didn’t believe in depression, to enthusiastically agreeing to participate and thanking us as an organization for doing important work, I was constantly surprised by each unique response to the same set of words presented in the same way. 

Cold calling –– a term which I learned to expand to include pitching the non-profit and our events to Southampton locals in person –– if I may be so bold, dishabituated me to fear. No matter who I called, if I had called them before, what time of day I called, if I was interacting with someone on the phone or explaining the race in person, I never knew what a person’s reaction to me would be. I had to live in anticipation and not let it distract me from my goal: getting people to engage with Hope for Depression. 

Before this summer, I was terrified of making a phone call, not to mention calling a stranger to ask them for something. I couldn’t call people. It got to the point that if my takeout food delivery order got messed up, I would make my roommate call the restaurant. Now, I can call people. In fact, I offer to make a call when someone else won’t. This change may seem small, but cold calling helped me overcome a very real fear that I had. 

Both the Race and Week of Hope ended with participation and fundraising numbers that exceeded our goals. The Week saw a nearly 200% increase in business participation, and the Race saw over 750 participants attend and raised over $280,000. Even though I felt my heart race for half of the summer as I dialed a new number or walked into a new store, I can’t help but feel like my cold calling made a difference to the Race and to me.

*Click here for the second part of Natalie’s story.