One Paradigm Shift in Fundraising that Says it All

One Paradigm Shift in Fundraising that Says it All


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


If we could change our collective thinking in just one way, we would all raise more money – and not by just a little bit.

That shift in thinking goes like this:


Donors give because they want to.


It sounds simple and intuitive, but it’s not, and we tread all over this idea all the time.


Instead, we make decisions based on what’s easier, or cheaper, or more efficient, or more convenient.

  • We fail to personalize appeal letters (it’s WAY more work to match envelopes to letters)
  • We let days or even weeks go by without sending acknowledgment letters (we batch them)
  • We replace paper newsletters with eNews (environmental organizations shouldn’t use paper)


Instead, we assume the donors look just like us.

  • We assume they don’t like getting requests for money in the mail (nobody reads fundraising letters)
  • We assume they don’t like getting phone calls (nobody even answers the phone)
  • We assume they respond better to language aimed at younger people (LOL, and smaller type allows us to use less paper)


Instead, we justify our existence with lots of facts and figures.

  • We list all of our organizational accomplishments, even those unrelated to the mission (thank YOU for helping us reach our appeal goal)
  • We talk to donors as if they weren’t part of the organization (we’re super happy because the Smith tract was our largest deal yet)
  • We rely on numbers instead of stories to communicate (these 47 acres are home to more than 3 species of mushrooms)


Instead, we are more concerned with sounding important and “learned” than with communicating effectively.

  • We use $10 words when two-bit words will do (these spectacular denizens of the desert – the mammals, reptiles, birds, plants, and trees – have all devised ingenious adaptations to the changing conditions of the terrain)
  • We use complex nouns and verbs when SIMPLE would be easier to absorb quickly (the Smiths and people just like them across the state, are big believers in preserving and protecting the greatness of this state and are happy to share with you why they’ve chosen to include the land trust in their estate plans)


When we understand that “Donors Give Because THEY Want To”, we:

  • Take the extra time and effort to personalize everything we can, so we are writing TO someone instead of AT someone.
  • We get acknowledgment letters out right away, and even call people to say thank you.
  • We send paper newsletters AND eNews.
  • We design our communication pieces (including requests for money) for older women – partly because many of our check writers are older and female, and partly because if older women can read it easily, so can everyone else.
  • We use stories to communicate organizational success, because the stories we tell remind donors of their own stories and are internalized differently.
  • We simplify our language and word choices to focus on communicating effectively and quickly instead of needing to sound important.
  • We use language that is inclusive of the donor, so the donors understand these successes are THEIR successes as much as they are our successes.


Just to be clear: very few donors give money so you can meet your appeal goal. They don’t give because you protected 47 acres, or three species, or 23 more than last year. And they don’t give to get a tote bag.

They give because they remember when you could drink water right from the stream.

They give because the nesting pair had a successful hatch.

They give because their self-image is of someone who chooses to do something good – and that makes them feel happy.

They give because their giving makes a difference.

They give because THEY want to.


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by Aaron Burden courtesy of



Share this!
  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 09:47h, 18 April

    Another great post that I shared with our communications and fundraising committees. Thank you!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 11:33h, 18 April

      Thanks for passing it along, Carol.


  • Rob Cardeiro
    Posted at 08:47h, 18 April

    I love it, David. You make it sound easy and straight forward. On some level we all KNOW this is the way to do it

    • David Allen
      Posted at 11:32h, 18 April

      We just need to keep it constantly in mind. Thanks for the comment, Rob.


  • David Brant
    Posted at 15:06h, 17 April

    You hit the nails on the heads!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 15:10h, 17 April

      Thanks David – sorry you had trouble posting the comment.


  • Sharon Weaver
    Posted at 14:36h, 17 April

    This is fantastic, and so true. Thanks for keeping us on our toes with the truth!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:46h, 17 April

      Thanks Sharon – our jobs as fundraisers should not be to “sell” donors on what we are doing, but instead to discover and remind them of their own reasons for wanting to give.


  • Lisa Haderlein
    Posted at 10:52h, 17 April

    THANK YOU!! Great post, David (as usual).

    • David Allen
      Posted at 11:27h, 17 April

      Thanks for the comment, Lisa. Notice that it posted right away. Things are looking up.