The Cold-Calling Volunteer: Go on, Take the Risk

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Culture: People First


Two weeks ago, our crew was buzzing about a potential knowledge philanthropist who’d left us a voice message. David is a self-described entrepreneur, innovator, and influencer. Soon after moving to Vancouver he wandered past Vantage Point’s offices, noticed a poster about our new book, went home and downloaded it, read it and called us to see how his skills could further our mission. Wow!

The theme of the upcoming BoardSource Leadership Forum is Bold Leadership: Taking Risks, Thinking Big! It has prompted me to think about the kinds of risk I take as a leader. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how I invest significant time to reactively engage talented people from the community.

As an Interim Executive Director, my tenure is finite and my hours are a limited resource. I generally seek to ensure I’m as effective and efficient as possible. And yet, I put it all on the line when it comes to exploring how individual knowledge philanthropists may accelerate our ability to deliver our mission.

I “risked” about 2 ½ hours with David last week. I wasn’t recruiting him for a specific role. I wasn’t sure if our conversations would go anywhere. Even today, I would not be able to articulate a clear bottom-line value to engaging him.

Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable, would almost certainly argue that funders and other stakeholders would criticize me for taking this type of risk (check out his recent TED Talk if you haven’t already seen it). And yet, I walked away from my first meeting with David with two significant new insights I know will shape conversations and guide major future decisions. The pay off of those 2 ½ hours may end up being immeasurable (in the most positive sense!).

I could have spent a whole day at a conference, read a book, or hired a consultant to gain similar insights. In those cases, however, I wouldn’t be able to schedule a follow-up conversation with a skilled strategist and community leader to take the insights to the next level.

Is the risk of taking on the cold-calling volunteer worth it? I absolutely think so. Do you? Have you taken a similar risk? Was the payoff worth it?


About the Author

After working in London and completing her MBA at INSEAD in France and Singapore, Maria Turnbull joined Vantage Point’s team in 2006. Rooted in the not-for-profit sector through numerous leadership roles with the British and Canadian Red Cross Societies, OXFAM and Amnesty International, Maria loves...


BobMcInnis's picture
BobMcInnis (not verified) on

Two minutes, two hours or even two days nurturing a relationship with someone who has expressed an interest in sharing their influence, affluence, or time with your cause is time well spent. Everthing is about relationships. Bravo for being open to forming nbew connections and learning from the experience.

Maria Turnbull's picture
Maria Turnbull (not verified) on
Bob, many thanks for making the connection that this is about the relationship. You're bang on! It's such a valuable lens with which to approach engaging knowledge philanthropists (aka volunteers!). If we come at it with the positive intention to build relationship, we're likely to realize a range of possibilities - and surprise ourselves (and our organizations) many times over! Maria

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