Six Mistakes Some of Us Will Make Fundraising This Fall – Part 2 of 3

Six Mistakes Some of Us Will Make Fundraising This Fall – Part 2 of 3


6 July 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Every year about this time, it occurs to me that we will be asking just about every one we know for a gift between now and the end of the year. Some we will ask for renewal gifts. Some for second or third gifts. Some we will ask for help with a specific program, project, or outcome. Others we will ask for general operating support.

And along the way, we will make mistakes. Not necessarily horrible mistakes. Not mistakes in the sense that we will fail. But rather mistakes in terms of lost opportunities. Mistakes that mean we will raise less than we might have otherwise.

There are probably dozens of small ones. Last week I started a three-part series about six mistakes I consider somewhat bigger, and some thoughts about what you might do to avoid them.

Mistakes 1 and 2


Here are the next two:


Measuring events by how many show up


Save-the-Date postcards. Paper invitations. Newsletter articles. Facebook promotions. Email.

All of these are good. All of them are aimed at getting the most people possible to attend. And the value of each event gets measured by how many attend versus last year.

And when the focus is solely on how many, we raise less money.

What about paying more attention to WHO is there? For example:

  • Do your Board members all attend? For events, having Board members in attendance is important because they can serve as ambassadors. Wear the colors. Fly the flag. Meet and Greet. Aim for a ratio of 1:7 – the larger the event, the more Board members you will need, but even small events need at least one Board member! And give them something specific to do. Introduce themselves to specific donors, introduce specific donors to other Board members or to staff, greet a specific table or sit at a specific table, and so on.
  • Make a list of 100 people you specifically want to see (build a relationship with) during the year. How many of those people attend the event (or at least attend one event)? By Thanksgiving, you will want to have seen all of them. Who’s left, and how will you get to see them?
  • What percentage of your current members and donors engage in your events? Compare THAT number with last year. Are you improving? Or are the same people coming to your events every time? In other words, are your events serving a small percentage of your donors? Or are they serving the donor group more broadly?


You can influence who comes to your events by making it personal. Save-the-Date postcards, newsletter articles, and social media are not personal – they are institutional. Paper invitations and email could be personal – make them so! And don’t forget about the phone. If you really want someone to attend, send them a personal invitation and then call them.


Failure to ask


If we build it, they will come,” is not a winning fundraising strategy.

I cannot tell you how many fundraising letters I review every year that fail to actually ask for money.

I understand that Andrew Carnegie once said, “Just tell me what you need. I’ll decide what I’m willing to do, but I need to know what you want first.” (Or words to that effect – I couldn’t find the actual quote.)

If I need your help moving my piano, I won’t get very far if I ask you to “drop by if you have time this afternoon.”

Please renew,” or “please be generous,” are not asks – or at least not specific asks.

By not being specific, we raise less money.


Try this:

Please consider a gift this year of $$$$. If you can do more, I invite you to consider a more generous gift or call me at ###-#### to discuss some options. If $$$$ is not right for you, please find a number that is right for you. No gift is too small to make a difference this year!

Ask everyone who gave less than $100 last year for $100.

Ask everyone who gave less than $500 last year for $365 (and leave it to them to figure out why).

Special shout-out to Whidbey Camano Land trust for THAT idea – I love it!

Make a list of people who gave $365 or more last year. Consider each one individually and ask for $1,000 or some other individualized amount from everyone you can. Ask for $500 from the rest.

See also: 8 “Rules” for Determining How Much to Ask For

Ask for more money. Be specific. Raise more money.


Next week: Failure to Say Thank You


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 Bonnie Moreland courtesy of


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  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 16:38h, 12 July

    Good advice as always, David. Thanks so much!

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 14:00h, 07 July

    Is it important to tell a story in annual membership renewal letters like we do in appeal letters?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 15:07h, 07 July

      Three pieces of information are important in renewal letters: how long they’ve been members, what they gave last year (or the year before), and what you are asking for this year. A story is not as important as these three data points. I have generally chosen ONE accomplishment – one item that was made possible, in part, because people like them gave last year. And the more visible the project was, the better. If you can use a story to deliver that message, great. But it’s not as important as it is in an appeal letter.

      Thank you! for the question.


  • Becky Abel
    Posted at 08:27h, 06 July

    So many good suggestions here, David

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:31h, 06 July

      Becky – so great to hear from you! I’m glad you find this space valuable.