High-Tech Fundraising vs. High-Touch Fundraising

High-Tech Fundraising vs. High-Touch Fundraising


2 February 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Before I start into today’s post, I want to remind you that I’m collecting five-year value information again, Time to Update the 5-Year Value Metric. If you could run a couple of reports on your database and send me the results, I will report out what I learn in the next two weeks.



I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why people say YES to requests for money. I think we spend far too much time imagining why people will say NO. We need to spend more time imaging them saying YES.

And I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, Motivation – Why Do People Say YES?

In my experience, the great majority will say YES based on just a few themes – maybe protecting more land versus restoring native habitats versus climate resiliency versus connecting people with Nature. The most successful fundraisers will be those who can quickly pivot between those themes in letters and conversation, and use stories to illustrate. They are able to engage people they meet in ways that are sensitive to what the other person wants to talk about.

This is “high-touch” fundraising, as opposed to “high-tech” fundraising. And frankly, I think we get them confused a lot.

In high-tech fundraising, we are dealing with the community of people who might be interested or supportive. We are not as concerned with how one person thinks or behaves as we are about how the community thinks and behaves as a community. If the community responds to stewardship messages more so than additional land acquisition, then we would be smart to boost our social media, newsletter, and appeal letter content devoted to stewardship.

How would we know?

Well, we could ask, using surveys, for example. Many people love being asked for their opinion. We probably don’t do this enough.

Or we could test, for example sending a stewardship message out to half and a land acquisition message out to half and measuring the results. We don’t do this enough, either.


In high-touch fundraising, we are dealing with a single person, one-on-one, who might be interested or supportive. We are not as concerned with how the whole community thinks and behaves as we are about how the person in front of us thinks or behaves as a person.

How would we know?

We listen. We stop selling, and we start asking questions.


The problems I see all too often arrive when we conflate high-tech with high-touch. For example, we know that one person prefers supporting stewardship, and we assume that therefore everyone prefers it.

I see this most often related to appeal letters and communicating by telephone. There is overwhelming evidence that the more letters you send, the more responses you get back. And that longer letters result in more responses. But we are still afraid of sending too many letters, and we keep our letters short because of a tiny percentage of people who responded negatively the last time.

Some people get really irritated when you call them, and based on their response, we don’t use the phone at all anymore.

Perhaps even more debilitating is mapping the way WE feel onto an entire community. Assuming that our preferences are everyone’s preferences.

  • I only like giving in November; therefore no one will give in the Spring.
  • I only like texting; therefore no-one will respond to email anymore.
  • I would never respond to four-page letters; therefore no-one would.
  • I hate being asked for money; therefore we should never ask for money.
  • Homeless problems are more important for me this year than land conservation, therefore that will be true for everyone.


Modern databases are able to help us keep track of some of this data, if we’re willing to collect it and use what we collect. For example, you can track people who are more interested in stewardship than land acquisition, or people who would prefer not to be called. And then tailor your communications to those preferences. Essentially this amounts to segmenting the larger community into smaller and smaller communities, and it is an incredibly important strategy for reaching out into non-traditional communities.

But high-tech fundraising is still the art of generalizing, and tailoring everything based on the interests of the few is self-defeating to one extent or another.


The reverse is equally problematic – treating everyone the same in high-touch fundraising. Some people want their gifts to be public; others give anonymously. If we make the assumption that most people are comfortable being public – perhaps understanding that their gifts may inspire others – we may lose the gift from Ms. Anonymous.

If we assume that everyone will support stewardship endowment, and we “sell” that program unilaterally, we may lose someone who believes managing land can come later – we need to buy everything we can first.

And that brings me back to successful high-touch fundraisers.


Individual donors will have their own reasons for supporting land conservation. Discovering the nature of those reasons is Job #1 for fundraisers. Therefore, the fundraising “pitch” is not so much a pitch per se as it is an ability to quickly pivot between themes to pick up on the conversational clues that emerge during conversation.

If you’re buying that so far, then we don’t need elevator speeches. What we really need is practice.

So more people will say YES.


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 Zhu Bing courtesy of Pixabay.



Share this!
  • Maxanne Resnick
    Posted at 10:26h, 02 February

    On a separate note, regarding soliciting donations on one’s website – does anyone know if there is data on effectiveness of locating a DONATE button on each page of one’s website?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 18:55h, 02 February

      Maxanne, I have not seen any data that has directly supports DONATE buttons on each page, but the practice is considered a best practice. In fact, making the button larger, using a bright color to set it off, and positioning it in the upper right hand corner are all considered best practices that help people who want to donate more easily find it. Further, in a perfect world, the DONATE button on any given page should link to a donation form that is tailored to the information on that page.