Chasing First Renewals – a Pep Talk

Chasing First Renewals – a Pep Talk


2 No0vember 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I’ve heard from many land trusts around the country that 2020 was a banner year in several respects, at least from a fundraising perspective. In fact this is true for many other land conservation / Nature-related organizations, too.

  • Record attendance at organizational events AFTER the decision to move to a virtual platform.
  • “Surprise” giving near the end of the year with large-ish donor gifts walking in the door in late December.
  • Strong response to appeal and renewal letters.
  • Preserve parking lots jammed with more people than ever using the trails. (Complete with ancillary challenges related to picking up after them.)


How do we manage this excess of enthusiasm? Will it last? Or was it just a nice flash in the pan?

I’d like to use this space to advocate for at least one strategic response in the last two months of 2021 – securing second gifts from first-gift donors.

But first some context:

One land trust with whom I have worked for nearly 10 years has had a relatively predictable recruitment of 200-250 new donors each year. In 2020 they received more than 1,000 gifts from new donors.

That’s the most extreme example I heard, but land trusts across the country are reporting double and triple the number of new donors giving money. This is happening, at least in part because of an almost perfect storm of circumstances.

  • Well-documented “natural” disasters such as drought, flooding, fire, and hurricanes are drawing more attention than ever to the realities of climate change. Those beginning to connect the dots are looking for things they can do to help.
  • The pandemic created a problem (people feeling cooped up, unable to move about in the ways they would normally) for which land trusts have an important solution – places to go to get outside. This, combined with the opportunity to work from anywhere, has created a renewed awareness that beautiful, unspoiled places were worth protecting.
  • The markets stayed strong and people who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs were spending less, saving more, paying down debt, and increasing their personal net worth.


Can it continue? Will it?

Can we influence those answers? How?


I believe we can, and I believe we should.

First, we should quantify the task. Make a list of all the people who made first gifts in 2020 all the way through the early summer this year. Check off those who have already made a second gift.

And keep checking them off as people respond to your requests to give this Fall. Using an actual printed list with check marks will help you stay motivated by giving you a strong visual of your progress.

Second, separate the list by source. How did they come to make a first gift? Some will have been random – I’ll get to those – but others may have been associated with an event, a program, a personal connection, a request mailing, or something similar. Knowing what stimulated their first gift will help you securing their second – IF you know.

Pro-Tip – that’s what source codes are for!

For those seemingly random gifts, we can make a reasonable assumption that they were inspired by an outdoor experience related to your organization’s work. A question I always like to ask is “Why will they say Yes?” A reasonable answer for this group might be that you are protecting places for people to go when they need to be outside.

  • Consider sending a second or even third renewal letter yet this year. Use themes for these letters that directly relate to what you know about why they gave in the first place. Illustrate by telling specific stories!
  • Ask Board directors to write “lift” notes to people they may know and even to people from their neighborhood or town. Encourage directors to make it personal.
  • Email and social media should support the letters, not the other way around. Use the themes of people getting outside, the importance of Nature, and the role land conservation plays in helping communities respond to the pandemic (as opposed to natural history education). Illustrate by telling specific stories!
  • Pick up the phone. Most phone calls will go to voice mail – that’s OK. Tell them who you are and that you are hoping they will renew. Call attention to the letter they will have received. Use a script to leave a message and invite people to return your call, leaving your cell number. And if you get someone on the phone, ask questions!


A couple of other thoughts:

The background first renewal rate (second gift rate) is commonly less than half. In most circumstances a 40-45% rate would be considered pretty good. Also know that it’s possible.

The median five-year value of new members for the twenty-or-so organizations I have studied has been $800. Multiply the number of people on your list by $800 – that will give you an idea about what’s at stake and should be enough to keep you motivated. The time and money you invest RIGHT NOW in converting first-gift donors to second-gift donors will increase this five-year value for your organization.

These donors gave money last year relatively impulsively. They know very little about land trusts and how they work. They won’t understand “easements” and will have no context for your 35th anniversary. They will need specialized and simplified communications. And that explicitly includes renewal requests.


I am VERY interested in your experience. Did you have a banner year with new member last year. What’s your first renewal rate so far this year? What will you be doing between now and Christmas to help? What do you expect to happen where you are?


Cheers, and Have a great week!




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.



Photo by Travel Photographer courtesy of



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