Pocket Change

Pocket Change


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


When I come home every evening, I throw the change from my pocket into an old coffee can. (Remember when coffee used to come in cans?) It’s an old habit that has served me well around Christmas on more than one occasion. Sometimes it’s just a few cents. Sometimes several dollars, especially after a business trip.

I don’t cash it in regularly, but I do cash it in when the can gets full – about every 10 months or so. The last time I cashed in my change can, there was $228.81 in the can. So, I’m throwing an average of 75 cents in the can each day.

And I’m throwing in this idea for you.

$221.81 is Pocket Change


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I’ve read this same statistic in other places also, but according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston last February, the average ATM withdrawal in the US is $103.

$103 is Pocket Change


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I’m telling you this because the other day I heard from another organization reluctant to ask a board member to give more than the $50 they’ve historically given because the board member “couldn’t afford it.”

We need to stop thinking this way.


OK – so there are some people who truly cannot afford $50 over the course of a year. Maybe they’re homeless, or about to be. Maybe they’re jobless and every nickel they have has somehow got to last until something breaks their way.

(Under these circumstances, perhaps serving on a land trust board work shouldn’t be their highest priority.)

Other people may decide NOT to give because they choose to do other things with their money. I have no problem with that.

But for most people, let’s stop pretending that they can’t afford it. And let’s stop blaming it on culture.

And let’s stop not asking because we’ve decided what others can or cannot afford. It’s arrogant and demeaning and insulting.


Especially related to Board Members.


Instead, let’s talk about creative ways people COULD give – in amounts that have the potential for inspiring others – IF they decided to afford it.

  • How about throwing change in a coffee can each night beginning in January. (What a great idea!) At Thanksgiving every year, cash in the can and give the total to the land trust. It’s probably worth at least $200.
  • Every time you take cash out of an ATM or out of the bank, take an extra $5 out for the land trust. Maybe stuff the bills in a coffee can, too. That might yield $300-500.
  • Every week at the grocery store, write your check for $20 over the amount. Put the twenties in an envelope and give $1,000 to the land trust at the end of the year.
  • Set up an auto-withdrawal or a recurring credit card charge for $100 monthly – that’s $1,200 per year.
  • Establish a savings account and have $100 per week automatically transferred from your checking account into your savings account. That’s $5,000 for the land trust at the end of the year.


And those are just the options we won’t feel. (OK, so we might feel the last one.)

And if WE discover it doesn’t kill us, it will help us understand that it won’t harm other people either.

And what about other things we could do? I have friends who host parties for circles of friends and family as charitable offerings. Taco bars, karaoke nights, block parties, pot-lucks, creole parties, Packer games, holiday events, fireworks, and so on. (See also Kim Klein’s well-traveled article called Fifty-three Ways for Board Members to Raise $1,000.)

Say you hosted such a party. How hard would it be to ask for a “suggested donation” of $20 per person with all proceeds going to the land trust?

I’ve been known to ask each land trust board member to find a way to commit $1,000 annually to the organization they serve. And I get a LOT of pushback.

I do that because donors make more effective fundraisers, and funders are increasingly looking at whether the board has “skin in the game.” $1,000 is about the point that board giving starts becoming noticed positively by others. I don’t expect every board member to give at that level necessarily, but it’s not unfair to ask. Let’s find a way to make it possible. The world expects nonprofit board leaders to be among the most committed and ardent supporters of their organizations. If those people don’t give…….


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The wildlife artist Owen Gromme had a son, Roy Gromme, whom I had the pleasure of knowing when he served on a land trust Board here in Wisconsin. I remember him fondly waggling his finger at me (actually at anyone who would listen) and saying, “When you don’t ASK someone to give, you are saying NO for them, and that’s not fair to them. You’ve got to stop doing that. Let them say NO for themselves. Because some of them will say YES, if you ask.


Let’s stop saying “NO” for our Board members or settling for “NO.” Let’s start finding ways to help them say “YES!”

At least their pocket change.


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by Mali Maeder courtesy of Stocksnap.io.


PS: Parts of this post were originally published in June of 2014.


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  • Lisa Haderlein
    Posted at 12:21h, 09 August

    David – I just did a birthday fundraiser for TLC, and offered to match the first $250 – well, surpassed that in 2 days, so upped my match to $500. Ultimately the 8-day Facebook “fundraiser” raised $1,000 for TLC (aside from my $500). It was a fun and painless way to raise money for an organization I care about. Facebook doesn’t deduct the processing fees – the full amount goes to the charity. For what it’s worth, I even had a relative in Australia make a gift (hope I didn’t break some international fundraising law!)

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:20h, 10 August

      What a great idea, and exactly the kind of creativity I was talking about. If we could all focus more on HOW to help make larger gifts possible instead of saying NO for Board members by not asking, we could raise a good deal more money. And we might end up enjoying ourselves along the way!


  • David Allen
    Posted at 12:40h, 07 August

    Here’s a different (and creative!) take on Pocket Change from Carol Abrahamzon at Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

    Coins for Conservation

    Thanks Carol!