Practice Makes Prepared

Practice Makes Prepared


30 March 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Imagine this scenario:

A Board member recruits a $5,000 donation from one of their friends. The actual event took the Board member completely by surprise.

(This story really happened!)

The donor simply called out of the blue and announced her intention because of “all the great work you guys are doing in the valley.”

Great!” said the Board member. “Where would you like us to use the money?”

I don’t know. Where do you need it the most?”

Well, we’ve been raising money for [specific project] recently. If it’s OK with you, we can put it there.”


If that scenario makes you cringe, you are not alone. Throughout the land trust community, well-meaning Board members are interacting with donors and turning unrestricted gifts into restricted ones. Why? In this case, probably because of the gift amount – nobody would give $5,000 for operations, would they?

We need to get out of our own way. Any money left unrestricted could be always be applied to endowment if the Executive Director and/or the Board determined that doing so was the highest and best use of the funds.

And that’s what the Board member should have done – allow the disposition to be determined by the Board or staff after consideration of the possibilities instead of tying the gift up all by themselves.


This is what I would say: “We recently closed on [specific project] because the land trust was in place when the landowner was ready to protect it. That possibility was created by folks like you who have donated money over the years. The money you donate today creates the possibility of conservation for the next landowner who’s ready. Thank you, so much!”


The truth is that it be better if EVERYONE left their gifts unrestricted. Our financial statements would be simpler and cheaper to prepare. We could focus our attention on land protection, stewardship, easement landowner relations, and community engagement. And we could prioritize our work on what was most important instead of most-likely-to-be-funded.

The last thing we should be doing is encouraging donors to turn unrestricted gifts into restricted gifts.


But there is a larger point to this story: The Board member was caught by surprise and didn’t know what to say!


I’ve been watching a lot of basketball these last few weeks – two of my favorite weeks of the year. If you watch carefully, you will see that the players are not simply running around trying to get open. Their movements are coordinated. They know where to go and how to help each other. They move not as individuals, but as a team.

And they understand what they need to do in specific situations – an inbounds play from underneath the basket, a missed free throw, 20 seconds left, or even 2 seconds left.

They know what to do in specific situations because they have practiced specific situations.


Practicing something is a “practice” that few of us experience after high school drama or sports. In most of our professional experience (and Board experience!) as adults, we are expected to be more like pick-up players, running around trying to get open.

What is practice? Control time and repeat the steps. When we practice, we slow down time, walk through the steps both intellectually and physically, and repeat them over and over.

We end up knowing what to say and do, even in specific situations. We are not often caught by surprise.

In fundraising work, practice happens outside the body. The ear actually hears the mouth say the words. We can’t get the same effect simply by repeating words silently inside our brains.


So, this is an encouragement for you and your Board to devote some time to practicing – on a regular basis. Drills!

Say a donor calls you up out of the blue and says she wants to give the land trust $5,000 because of “all the great work you guys are doing in the valley.” What will you say?

Or that she wants to make a gift of stock.

Or that she wants to make a gift contingent on the land trust putting out a statement about All Lives Matter (or any other statement antithetical to your mission and purpose).

Or that she wants to make a gift as long as the Board doesn’t know who gave it.

Or that she wants to know specific details about a land purchase that is still pending.

Or …






Are you practicing specific scenarios? I’d love to learn from your experience.


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 Shell Ghostcage courtesy of Pixabay.



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1 Comment
  • Dennis S Main
    Posted at 07:32h, 30 March

    On the flip side there are always those donations that have been made in the PAST that were restricted (example $20K in 2003) that still linger in a restricted account, e.g. for acquisition of land to expand a Preserve where there is NO hope of an actual parcel being available, but the LT and local members not wanting to take a chance of “offending” the prior donors by going back and asking to use the money for some actual good, besides just sitting in a non-earing account and being used as a “reserve requirement” offset (which it probably shouldn’t anywise????)