Fall Fundraising Will Be What You Make of It

Fall Fundraising Will Be What You Make of It


21 July 2020


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


It’s hard to believe, but we’re going to blink and find ourselves in August. And the blur that is the Fall each year for fundraisers will be upon us.

Are you ready?

How will your fundraising plan for Fall 2020 be different than it was last year? Or any other year?

Here’s what I’m thinking. What are you thinking?



Let’s face it. We’re not doing much right as a country when it comes to handling the pandemic. The Fall wave of Spanish Flu in 1918 was devastating and well-documented. It certainly looks like we’re heading in that direction. Therefore:

  • Many of us will still be working from home. So will our donors and their families. How will the workflow be interrupted?
  • Some of us will get sick. Forget about dying – I’m not going there – do you have a contingency plan for not being able to work for three or four weeks?
  • Mental health will become an issue. I’ve been saying for some time that the CoronaVirus hitting us in the Spring was significantly better than hitting us going into Winter. But now Winter is coming. Some of our donors live alone. (Do you know which ones?) Some of us live alone, too. Some are living with children of all ages – who will not necessarily be going back to school in September. How will we cope? How can we take care of each other? How can we take care of ourselves?
  • Andrew Bowman from the Alliance has been saying that the “Land is the Answer” – and he was saying that way before CoronaVirus. But it has never been more true. How can we use the Land? How can the Land help you?


The Election

The election of 2020 will likely be one for the record books. It will be different in different parts of the country, but it will leave us all exhausted at the very least.

Labor Day has always been a turning point – the corner we round from Summer vacations into Fall schools. And we’ve waited until September to start thinking about, much less preparing for, our Fall fundraising. Not so much this year. The months are blending one into another. Every day is Tuesday.

And we can’t wait for Labor Day this year.

We need to throw the old fundraising calendar out – and especially so around the election. We need to get our appeals out two or three weeks sooner. We need to get on the phones in October, instead of waiting until Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Then plan to lie low the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks in November. Let’s not forget that, among other things, it may take two or three weeks to know the fullness of the election results.


The Economy

October has historically been a bad month for the stock market. Look it up. When the market crashes, it often does so in October. The market may or may not crash this year, but the clouds that are gathering are pretty dark.

Will Congress prop up the economy with another multi-trillion-dollar bailout?

This will not be a year to press fundraising pause in August and September. This will be a year to emphasize alternative ways to give. Monthly giving, giving through donor-advised funds and family foundations, giving from retirement accounts, gifts of appreciated stock.

I’ve been asked about including information about the CARES Act provisions. There are two provisions that are relevant:

  • Donors who do not itemize their taxes may make $300 gifts per taxpayer and fully deduct it in 2020. I would definitely include this information in appeal letters. Perhaps as a PS note. (Remember that people read PS notes even if they don’t actually read the letter!)
  • Donors who do itemize their taxes will be able to give and deduct more in 2020. Donors have been limited in the past to deducting just half or so of their Adjusted Gross Income. This year they can deduct up to all of it. This provision will apply to a relatively small part of your donor base. If you mention it in your fundraising, I recommend finding someone who is using it and letting them tell the story.


Us/Them Mentality

It has always been tempting to see our land trusts as Board and staff supported by members and donors. But it is more important than ever to see members and donors as part of the organization. The organizations that survive the coming turbulence will be those whose donors are part of the organization – part of the solution. Now is not the time for us-and-them mentality. Now is the time to bring donors into the center. Now is the time for we’re-all-in-this-together mentality.

And that definitely includes members and donors.


Giving is UP this year

Appeal results are UP. On-line giving is UP. Renewal rates are UP. Outdoor activities on our preserves is UP. Interest in land conservation is UP. Appreciation for places we can get outside is UP.

Many people are home. They are socially starved and bored. They are reading their mail, watching videos online, and answering their phones.

Believe that fundraising will not suffer this Fall, but that you will need to be aggressive and prepared to act early.


In short, it is time to face fearlessly into the storm. Eyes wide open. And plan accordingly.


That’s what I’m thinking. What are you thinking?



Cheers, and have a great week!




Photo by David Allen


Share this!
  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 10:19h, 21 July

    Interesting thoughts about the election and when we should be sending out our year-end appeal. Normally we send it out right after Thanksgiving, which has worked for us. I don’t want to bump that up a few weeks and send it in early Nov given the election. We’ll need to decide if we stick with late Nov or bump it way up and send in early Oct. We tend to find that so many people wait to give until late December… but maybe if we send the appeal sooner, we’ll see that change.

  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 09:26h, 21 July

    David, regarding the election, is it true that in election years giving to non-politically oriented organizations goes down (because people are giving to candidates, etc.)? If so, how much? What would you anticipate we see in a decrease because of this?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 10:55h, 21 July

      I have never seen a definitive study on this question. What I have seen relates to timing. Those organizations sending mail or email within two weeks either way of a national election will tend to get buried by political mail. Sending mail earlier can help, but holding onto it for a couple of weeks usually works as well. The problem is that the election is NOT the only factor this year, which makes planning that much more difficult. The truth is that VERY few donors give politically, so that part is not a particular cause for concern. Those that do give politically this year, may choose to do so at the expense of giving philanthropically, because the stakes are perceived to be so high. This is especially so if the market starts to slide. There may also be a market reaction to the election results, which begs a whole other set of questions. It’s all so hard to guess, but I would be starting earlier and making the best decisions possible almost week by week. THANK YOU for the question, -da