Unpopular Truth about Birthdays and Fundraising

Unpopular Truth about Birthdays and Fundraising


17 November 2020


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Cold water time. Ready?

Nobody cares about your birthday more than you do. (Not even your mother.)

In fact, for the vast majority of people you have met during the years since your actual birth day, your annual celebration doesn’t even register. Even for those who care about you a lot.

They care about who you have become. What you’ve done. And to some extent, who you’ve surrounded yourself with.

But not how many times the Earth has orbited the sun since you came into being.

So why do we imagine that it’s any different for our organizations?


There were lots of land trust organizations that picked up their 501c3 papers in the late 60s or early 70s. And they’re all turning 50 about now. I’m watching land trust after land trust spend months planning anniversary events.

Because it feels like turning 50 should be a big deal.

But it’s not.

Nobody cares.

Sorry about that.


It feels like it should be different – because we’re human, right? Turning 50 is “one of the big ones.” 50th wedding anniversaries are rare enough to be noteworthy. They are milestones – and we vividly remember every mile. A celebration is an opportunity to reflect back on those miles.

The same dynamics are at play with land trusts. And they have about the same level of interest for others.



Think about it this way: Half or more of the people who gave us money last year were in their first two years of association. A quarter or less were giving five years ago. Not one of these donors will be more motivated to give because the organization turned 50 years old. Further, no one outside that circle will be motivated to make a first gift because the organization turned 50 years old.

Further yet, while the organization was madly making anniversary plans, what could have been productively done instead?

The anniversary is not a marketing hook. It’s a distraction.


People give money because they believe that their gift will make a difference. That what you are doing is something they want to see done. Turning 50 doesn’t make their list.

Here are five things you can do that will make a bigger impression on donors than organizing a series of events or launching a marketing campaign that celebrates your 50th year:

  1. Protect (or restore, or steward) another piece of land, and ask members and donors to help financially.
  2. Host a series of “Land Trust Days” events designed to help people and families discover the places your land trust has been able to protect.
  3. Reconnect with as many Board members (and staff members, too) from 50 years ago and from the years since then. Ask them to reflect on their years of service, focusing on the factors that motivated them in the first place. If possible, videotape, or at least record their stories.
  4. Record birthday messages from institutional funders (foundation, business, and agency) that include the reasons making grants to your organization is important for them. Release these messages over a two-week period either around Earth Day or in mid-September – in other words, just prior to your seasonal appeal letters. (You’ll need at least eight to make this work.)
  5. Plan and launch a major gift or capital campaign effort to raise money in a concentrated way for a suite of new land conservation projects. For this to work with an anniversary, you would need to have launched the quiet phase of the campaign during the year or two preceding the 50th That way the announcement would coincide with a birthday celebration.


There will be many more ideas with similar themes.

What each of these ideas has in common is that the emphasis is on the land. On the accomplishment of having protected that land. On the public recognition of those accomplishments from community leaders. And on the individual and community engagement in that protection effort.

People care about who you have become. What you’ve done. And to some extent, who you’ve surrounded yourself with.

Not how long you’ve been around.


So celebrate with your Board, staff, and closest friends. Have a birthday party!

But make it quick. And then go back to doing what you do – conserving land.


Stay safe and stay well,




Photo by Marlin Greene courtesy Pixabay


PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


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  • Anita O'Gara
    Posted at 15:08h, 17 November

    Good wisdom from David! And if you decide you have really good reasons & capacity to have an event, we’ve found it simplifies things to focus on a special experience rather than a ticketed fundraising event. Example: our 40th involved a big tent on a board member’s conservation easement property – and a chance to ride in a horsedrawn wagon to the hilltop where Grant Wood painted his famous “Fall Plowing”. It was not a fundraising event – but a warm thank-you celebration where some of our closest friends (board, major donors, legacy donors) shared great energy and enthusiasm with each other. Plenty of work, but worth it once in a while.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 15:30h, 17 November

      I completely agree. The event you described falls under the category of “Birthday party” for me. Thank you for the comment!

  • Cinnamon Rossman
    Posted at 10:27h, 17 November

    Perfect comments as we begin planning our 35th. This is a very good reality check and reminder to be mission-centered and donor-centered, of course!

  • Kerry Leigh
    Posted at 09:16h, 17 November

    I love the idea of land trust days….

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:52h, 17 November

    At first glance I thought you were a party pooper – but after reading this and thinking further about it you are right, once again! Perfect timing as we just began thinking about our 25th! Thanks!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:17h, 17 November

      I AM a party pooper! But I have a big heart. Love to hear sometime how this might change your plans for your 25th. Stay in touch. -da