The Importance of Trust in Fundraising

The Importance of Trust in Fundraising


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


Dear Mary,

We opened the Trillium Trail today.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a little thing.

There were about 30 people there, mostly the volunteers who worked on building it these last three years. Frank was there, of course.

A small ribbon-cutting ceremony. Brownies and lemonade and good friends. Dedicated to the service of summer sunshine, birdsong, and generations of folks whose laughter will discover this place on their own in the years to come.

I remember when this trail was just a line on a map through what was then Baker’s woodlot. You and I sat at your kitchen table and wondered aloud how long it would take before it was all converted to cul-de-sacs and strip malls.

“What if?”, we wondered together.

And here we are.

Thank you.

Thank you for being there. Thank you for sharing the dream. Thank you for believing in us.

We raised the money. We bought the land. We planned and then built the trail.

In a very important way, you made this happen. Not because you gave directly to the project (though that was important too). But because of the years of operating support you provided as a member. To the land trust. And to me personally.


We opened the Trillium Trail today.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a huge deal.


*    *    *    *    *


The above letter is fiction. I drew from several experiences and stories to imagine a specific scenario and circumstance. And I wrote the letter to a specific imagined individual.

However, think about receiving the above letter. Think about writing it, with your specifics inserted. Think about writing several hundred such letters each year.

How would that change your organization and how donors felt about giving to it? How would it change your own job? And how you felt about your job.


I ran across a new acronym the other day – this from Jeff Schreifels (Passionate Giving Blog).

YMAD = You Made a Difference


Schreifels recommends YMAD communications as a regular part of donor stewardship two or three times each year.




Donor stewardship takes effort. It does not lend itself to “standard IRS-required language” in our Thank You letters. Or to waiting weeks to get acknowledgements out. It takes time.

In return, donor stewardship builds TRUST. Trust – in our modern world full of fake news and alternative facts – is very difficult to come by. Trust is what motivates donors to leave their giving unrestricted – to support the MISSION instead of just the tangible outcomes.

And trust in the U.S. – and this specifically includes nonprofits – is plummeting. In fact, trust in the U.S. has plummeted to its lowest point ever – now trailing both Russia and South Africa (see 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer).

Identification  –  Cultivation  –  Engagement  –  Solicitation  –  Stewardship

We face an uncertain future – the bedrock of our democracy is shaking. Laws regulating how we treat our land and water are being cast aside and routinely trampled. And many of the incentives for philanthropy are gone. What will happen? What can we do about it?

Imagine devoting 20% of your time to donor stewardship. To building trust. To communicating intentionally, authentically, and emotionally with donors. Two or three times each year. All the time.

You Made a Difference


It might turn out to be a big deal.

It might just be a huge deal.


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by marina courtesy of

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