I Don’t Have Enough Time!

I Don’t Have Enough Time!


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I don’t have enough time!

There are two problems with taking that statement on its face. The first is that it is almost never literally true – there is usually plenty of time. We’re just using it to do other things.

A more literally true statement would go something like this: I am choosing to spend my time doing other things.

Second, the other things we are choosing to do are often not strategically chosen as much as they are traditionally chosen. We’re doing them because we did them last year.

So, a useful question when something important comes along might be: Is this strategically important enough to make time to do it?

And if we assume that the answer is YES, then how? The obvious zero-sum answer is that we add something to our plate by removing something else – preferably something of lesser strategic value. And there is merit there. But sometimes we can benefit by thinking outside the box, too.

I recently heard the following account from Chuck at Avalonia Land Conservancy (Avalonia). I asked his permission to share it on this blog. Chuck wanted to use handwritten addresses and notes to increase the open rate on annual appeal and membership mail.

But he didn’t have time!


Here is Chuck’s account:


We recognized that consumers were hit with numerous requests from non-profits in the last quarter of the year. Avalonia wanted to stand out in the stacks of mail and not get tossed in the circular file, unopened. We determined that a hand written address or note gets opened at a much higher rate than a mail merged envelope. And we knew that a nice hand written thank you card means more than the computer printed acknowledgement letter used for tax purposes.

Avalonia has given presentations to and led hikes for the StoneRidge Senior Independent Community in Mystic, CT (SR). Through that relationship, we learned that many of the residents had been active volunteers throughout their lives (one man 40 years with Red Cross!) We determined that we had a resource of conservation minded seniors, who may have mobility issues, but still have much to offer in manpower and talent. We worked with SR management and came up with a plan where Avalonia would bring volunteer projects to SR while they recruited residents to work for 2 – 3 hours, 2 – 3 times a month. Here are the projects we worked on:

Abutter membership campaign – Avalonia has more than 110 properties and about 4,500 acres in eight towns. A volunteer went on to each town’s municipal website and downloaded the names and address of abutters (within 200” to catch a neighbor across the street.) We then removed the names of current members, LLCs, state and town owned land and ended up with about 2,500 families who are our neighbors, but not members. SR volunteers hand addressed all 2,500 envelopes (many had beautiful hand writing) over eight sessions. Some, who had trouble writing, sealed envelopes, applied stamps, and collated the mail in ZIP code order. These were mailed in batches of about 300 over a two-month period. Results: 52 new members and almost $7,000 in membership dues, doubling the number of abutters who had been prior members.

Lapsed member campaign – We recognized we had as many lapsed members as current members. Using our Little Green Light database, we ran reports that showed lapsed members for 18 months, lapsed members 18 – 36 months, and lapsed more than 36 months. There were about eighty in each group. SR volunteers hand wrote “we miss you” notes on Avalonia note cards, hand addressed, stamped and sealed them. They looked like a personal invitation, beautiful. We regained 82 lapsed members. About 50 from the first group, 20 from the second and 10 from the last. We had several notes inside the return envelopes of these renewing members, saying how nice it was to have a personal note from an organization. They were thanking us for the membership request!

The bottom-line lessen for us: engage your community. There are resources that are untapped and just waiting to help. Clubs, teams, fraternal organizations, military, businesses, scouts and yes, senior citizens. The management at SR said she thought the residents got as much from the experience as we did. Longtime residents met new friends. They swapped stories like a quilting bee. They worked as teams and were proud they had accomplished so much. And Avalonia gained over 100 members, 20 new volunteers and generated about $15,000 in membership revenue. A real win-win-win.


The bottom-line for me is to not stop at I don’t have time. Don’t settle for “can’t” if it’s important. Try starting with “how.”


Thank you! Chuck for sharing the story.


Cheers, and Have a great week.




Photo by Nicole De Khors courtesy Burst


Share this!
  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 10:56h, 17 September

    I plan to implement the lapsed member campaign. Did the volunteers write more then “we miss you”? How much is too much to ask them to write? Did they include a renewal envelope with the hand written card? Tell me more so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel – I don’t have time! 🙂

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:48h, 23 September

      From Chuck:

      Yes, they wrote about a 50 word note which was composed for them, saying how important their membership was to Avalonia. Yes, we included a return envelope.
      We did about 100 at a time, with 8 – 10 people writing, so each did about ten notes at a time. I will say with their aging hands, some got writer’s cramp, but they pitched in and got the job done.

      Thank you, Chuck!