Tales of Scotland

Tales of Scotland


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


This week, I want to tell you about Scotland.

  • The first island we visited was just ten miles long and two miles wide. Its name is Colonsay, and it was the ancestral home of the MacPhee clan – as in John McPhee, the author.
  • We also spent two days in Glasgow, mostly in one of the two train stations, and two more days in Oban in transition.
  • And we spent four days on the island of Arran which we had also visited back in 2017.
  • All told, we hiked 77 miles in six days. And biked another 20 miles.
  • Both of us were wearing Fitbits, though our strides are significantly different.
  • I logged 131,000 steps the first week and 125,000 the second. I think Kate logged more than 300,000 total.
  • On the day we climbed Goatfell (the highest point on Arran), I logged 275 floors of climbing!
  • Snagging Goatfell was significant to us because it was one of two missing pieces of the Arran Coastal Way we had left from 2017. We also nailed the stone circles at Machrie, so now we can say we completed the Coastal Way!
  • We were incredibly lucky – it only rained significantly two of the days we were there.


Now close your eyes and take note of your emotional reaction to the above bullets. Are you inspired? Are you inspired to go to Scotland? If we talk about this a week from now, will you remember the names of the two islands I visited? Even one of the statistics I listed?

Or do you feel removed from the information?

I gave you data – but not really information. The bullets are full of achievement and success while lacking significance. I communicated that we “won,” but it doesn’t matter.


A funny thing happens to most people as they get older, according to blogger Jeff Brooks (Future Fundraising Now). Motivation begins to shift around age 50 away from achievement and success and toward “significance.” Less about “winning” and more about “mattering.”

“Achievement” is communicated by facts and metrics. “Mattering” is communicated through story and metaphor.

Success is more intellectual. Significance is more emotional.

And significance is more important in fundraising.

The problem is that most of what we write is related to achievement. Justifying our existence. “Come look at what we’ve done – how great we are.”

When we use less data and more stories, we communicate values and emotions, which in turn trigger motivations to give. And we raise more money.


Let me try again to tell you about Scotland.

One day, we meandered down the southeast coastline of our tiny island, picking our way through the wind-swept heather and brambles on sheep trails. We were headed for The Strand, a strip of sand a mile wide that connects the Island of Colonsay with the smaller island of Oransay to the south. The Strand is only traversable at low tide – our “window” that day was 4:00pm plus or minus 90 minutes. We were so concerned about missing it, we arrived an hour and a half early! – in the rain. So we huddled under the one poncho we had (why didn’t we bring two!), and ate our lunch.


Completely alone.


Completely unplugged.


And never happier.


When we did finally cross (still raining), we hiked another mile down a gravel road to the ruins of a 14th century priory. Let’s just say that the experience was “atmospheric,” with the light rain, gray skies, and stone walls set against the brilliance of wet green grass.


That was when Kate found the grave slab room. Unlike the rest of the ruin, this room had a restored roof and the windows were sealed with plexiglass plates. Inside were thirty-some grave slabs, including two phenomenal carved effigies of MacDuffie chiefs from the early 16th century. The whole thing got “real” for us in a completely different way. We started to imagine what it must have been like to have these people walking around, inhabiting these buildings.


About halfway back, the sun came out, and we could almost hear the angelic chorus in the background.


Two days later – it wasn’t raining this time – we took rented bikes up to a trailhead and wound from there up to the extreme north end of the island. Along the way, we were treated to magnificent views of an iconic bay with a perfect crescent of beach sand and rolling breakers. Our destination was another, smaller, and less visited beach. When we arrived, we were the only ones there. The only footprints on the fresh sand were made by birds.


How many times have you ever had an entire beach to yourself?


So we sat down on the one poncho we had, and ate our lunch.


Completely alone.


Completely unplugged.


And never happier.



Now close your eyes again and take note of your emotional reaction to the above passages. Are you inspired? Are you inspired to go to Scotland? If we talk about this a week from now, will you remember the names of the islands I mentioned?


Now back to the relevance to fundraising. People – all people – give from the heart. They respond to emotional content, and the degree to which they respond increases with age – as their motivation becomes more and more about mattering.

We raise more money when our fundraising writing communicates emotion through story-telling. When we convey shared values instead of achievements. Significance more so than success.

If this doesn’t feel right to you, it might be because you are not yet 50 years old. In fact, even though many of our significant donors are over 50, many fundraisers are under 50 and motivated more by markers of achievement, success, and winning. Leaving the numbers and metrics behind in favor of story-telling may feel wrong and maybe even wasteful.

Do it anyway.

Because it works.

Paraphrasing Brooks again:

If you’re under 50, use stories and you’ll win at fundraising!

If you’re over 50, use stories and you’ll make a bigger difference!


Cheers, and Have a great week.




PS: OK, so maybe I really just wanted to tell you about our trip to Scotland. Guilty! Not sorry.


Photo by David Allen on the Island of Colonsay


Share this!
  • Dan Gudahl
    Posted at 08:53h, 04 September

    I always enjoy reading your posts. I hope I get you to come to Whiterock sometime in the near future.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 17:26h, 04 September

      Me too!


  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:49h, 04 September

    LOL, well done!

  • Sharon Weaver
    Posted at 12:54h, 03 September

    This is a fantastic example! Besides being a great fundraising lesson, it shows how the narratives we create about our experiences affect our feelings and memories of those experiences. Both are accurate, but the second is the one that sounds like a rich and full life.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 13:27h, 03 September

      Right and right again! Hopefully readers will also infer values from the story – values that they share. When we use stories in appeal letters and other requests for support, the same thing happens. And people who share those values are more likely to respond to the appeal also.

      Thank you for your comment!

  • Ann Astarita
    Posted at 11:39h, 03 September

    What a great way to convey an important message! Many thanks for sharing your Scotland stories.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 12:10h, 03 September

      Thank you so much for writing. Great to hear from you!