Pick Them Up – Change Your Donor’s Perspective

Pick Them Up – Change Your Donor’s Perspective

Quick – you’re off to meet with a donor and you can take one and only one prop with you. What do you take?

Answer: A map.

People love maps, and they love them because maps help place conservation projects in a landscape context.

Here’s where we are right now. Here’s where you live. And here’s the project we’ve been talking about. See? It connects this protected land to that protected area. That means that the [fill in the blank: moose, ocelots, brown bears, or whatever] have a “migratory corridor” to move in between protected areas.

So, what’s even better than a map?

A flyover.

When I worked in Oregon for TNC, one year we chartered a KingAir – a six-passenger, twin-prop airplane – to show donors what the state looked like from the air. With six passenger seats, we were able to accommodate two couples, a board member “host” and a knowledgeable staff guide.

The agenda included an hour or so flight along the Columbia River Gorge, an overnight near Joseph OR, a drive up to a preserve property at dawn, and a return flight along the Cascade Peaks the next day.

We did about four of these trips with each one costing us about $2,000. They would be more like $6,000 each now, but the return on investment was in the hundreds of thousands.

Put the right people in the plane, and the return would be even greater today.

I was reminded of these trips last week when I attended the Conservation Excellence Conference in Denver Colorado, hosted by the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT). Among the presenters was Ryan Boggs, Chief Program Officer for Lighthawk.

Lighthawk is a non-profit organization that matches volunteer pilots and their airplanes with non-profit organizations who could benefit from seeing the landscape from the air. Here’s what their website says:

We fly to save the Earth.

We accelerate conservation success through the powerful perspective of flight. We mobilize volunteer pilots, photographers, environmental experts, and storytellers to make images, collect data, inform the public and share their experiences about some of our environment’s most critical issues, landscapes and wildlife. Our flight campaigns foster dialogue and build consensus, promote informed decision-making, and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our conservation partners’ work.

For the record, Lighthawk does not offer flights in KingAir airplanes. Most of their airplanes are smaller four-seaters, and the pilot takes one of those. So we’re talking about a donor couple plus a staff guide, or a single donor plus a board member plus a staff guide.

On the other hand, they’re free.

Lighthawk asks only that you report back to them information based on specific metrics for the campaign and flights – how much money was raised, for example.

The CCLT presentation featured 1) using these pilots and planes for easement monitoring flights and 2) using them for donor flights. Both stories were compelling, but this is a fundraising blog, so I’ll focus on the donor flights.

The Lighthawk process involves signing up as a “partner” organization. They have to approve you as a partner, but then they work with you directly to envision how such a flight might help you communicate a story to donors. You pour over maps and identify specific locations to see from the air. And you take a test flight with staff and/or board members to help visualize the experience.

What’s the story you want to tell donors? Chances are getting them in the air could help.

Maybe you fly over protected areas and areas that are not protected yet. Maybe you see how protecting and restoring one tract can help connect other protected areas. Maybe you see the effects of subdivision and development versus an unbroken landscape. Maybe you see how a particular neighborhood community fits into a larger watershed. Maybe you see an entire watershed for the first time.

The flights aren’t long – 30 to 60 minutes might be all it takes.


*  *  *  *  *  *  *

This might be a bit of a stretch, but there’s a motivational video by Walter Bond that encourages parents to pick their children up. Bond was a professional basketball player in the NBA for three seasons and is now a motivational speaker. Bond says that picking children up is very important, because “when you pick a child up, you change their perspective. When you pick a child up, all the sudden they can see the world the way you see it.

To some extent, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with donor cultivation, too. Change their perspective – helping them see the world the way we see it.

One powerful way to do this is to get donors up in the air.

Consider the effect the blue marble photo captured by Apollo 17 had in 1972. Those of us whose lives span that historic date know that it changed the way all humans looked at the Earth – forever. Through the lens of Apollo 17’s on-board camera, we were all picked up. And it changed our perspective.

Perhaps you have volunteer pilots you already know. Perhaps Lighthawk makes sense for you. Perhaps renting a larger plane is the answer. Regardless, think about how you could tell your story by changing the donor’s perspective of your work.

A map will help – always has.

Maybe getting them in the air can help, too.






PS: And pick up your kids, too!


Photo by Dawid Zawiła courtesy of Stocksnap.io.


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  • David Allen
    Posted at 13:48h, 28 March

    From my In-Box this morning:

    Today you made my day with your post – honest… What a great idea for our top donor campaign. That said all your posts are great.

    Last week’s post put our Executive Director in the mindset of donor recognition and now I am able to sit with him and review the donation thank you’s going out to include his personal notes. We are also reviewing the renewal notes being sent out for the same.

    Love the “Thank before you bank” quote, I have been trying to do just that so it made me laugh!!!

    -Alice C.

  • rick epstein
    Posted at 09:29h, 28 March

    Very interesting idea, David. You are correct….I love maps and also following the creation of additional protected open space on maps. Whether fly-overs could be a useful tool here in Northern Virginia is something to consider. Thank you, as always, for this additional perspective.