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

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


13 July 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Every year about this time, I start thinking that we will be asking just about every one we know for a gift between now and the end of the year. Some will be renewals. Some will be asks for second or third gifts. Some will be for help with a specific program, project, or outcome. Others for general operating support.

And along the way, we will make mistakes. Mistakes that mean we will raise less than we might have otherwise. Lost opportunities.

There are probably dozens of small ones. For the last couple of weeks I have been writing about six of these mistakes I consider somewhat bigger, and some thoughts about what you might do to avoid them.

Mistakes 1 and 2

Mistakes 3 and 4


Here are the last two – Mistakes 5 and 6:


Failure to Segment


Lots of land trusts and other nonprofits use preprinted response envelopes for their renewal and appeal letter packages. It’s easy to see why – they are convenient, easy, and relatively inexpensive.

The problem is that they treat everyone the same.

Most envelopes I’ve seen top out at $250 or $500. Why would you send one of these envelopes to people who gave $500 or $1,000 last year?

In an ideal world, you would hand-craft a renewal and appeal letter package for each individual person. You would reference what they gave last year and ask for a little bit more. You would include information relevant for them – like something related to their stage in life, special interests like birding or hiking, or geography. You would make it personal. We don’t have time to treat every person individually, but we don’t need to go all the way to the opposite extreme either.

The middle ground is segmentation.

When we fail to segment, we raise less money.


The easiest segmentation we can create is by ask amount. You don’t need many different asks. Think about asking most people for $100. (Make this a specific ask requested in the body of the letter – see Mistake #3 – Failure to Ask). Then use a response card, or preprinted envelope, that starts at $50, and includes $100, $365, $500, and OTHER. The amount you are asking is the second “offering” in the string.

BUT – if they gave $100 or more last year, send them a different preprinted envelope. One that starts with $100, and includes $365, $500, $1,000, and OTHER.

You’re going to need at least four preprinted envelopes. Segmentation.

I prefer using response envelopes that are NOT preprinted with all the options. These so-called #9 envelopes are simply pre-addressed with the organization’s mailing address. And then using a card that is tailored to each specific segment I am mailing to. These cards can be easily printed as needed.

This segmentation alone will help raise more money, but it should be noted that segmenting based on what they gave last year is just the tip of the iceberg. Segmentation by age, known interests, geography, and even event attendance can all be creatively used to help raise more money. Each organization needs to be real about how much complexity it can handle, but segmentation at least by ask amount is better than treating everyone the same.



Failure to Say Thank You


This should be something we learn in kindergarten. Ask – receive – say thank you. My mother saying: “Now what do you say, David?”

Thank you.

And not thank you a month later either. Thank you right away.

So what’s the problem? Why is it so hard for us to follow-through on this basic idea?

I think the answer is that it’s NOT personal. It’s time to do the appeal. “Doing” the appeal is largely mechanical and impersonal. It’s easy to forget that these are real people and not “the membership.” It’s easy to get lost chasing “efficiency.”

I also think that some of us are mired in a transactional point-of-view. Membership is a fee. Someone who gives $500 is “buying” a $25 membership and making a $475 donation. Transactions are “complete” when the membership is recorded. When their renewal date is advanced another year. Saying thank you becomes optional.

Regardless, this is boneheaded.

By not saying thank you, we raise less money.


Let’s start with checking the mail. Many small organizations report that they only check the mail once or twice a week. That may be fine for most of the year, but it’s not fine right after an appeal goes out. For the 6-10 weeks right after an appeal, you should probably check the mail every day.

Many organizations use a 48-hour rule for mailed thank you letters. I prefer 24 hours. Whatever – it should be quick. Think about the donor/member. They wrote their check at least two or three days ago. Even if you got a thank you out the same day you got the check, their experience is still 5-7 days from start to finish. That’s an eternity in this world we live in.

Instead of it being a chore, saying thank you needs to be an organizational priority.

Here are some other ideas, in order of relative effectiveness:

  • Call them to say thank you! It’s personal and effective, but calling does not replace the mailed acknowledgement.
  • Handwritten letters and cards. Old school for sure, and probably overkill for most people, but very effective.
  • Printed letters with or without hand-written notes.
  • Email – immediate and effective IF you can verify that it was received. (Ask as question in the email.) Email that is not received is the same as not saying thank you.
  • Preprinted postcards. Write-in the date and amount of their gift, fold over and tab the flap, address and mail. Easy peasy. Not very personal, but it gets the job done.


Whatever you end up with – speed matters. And here’s the thing. Most people won’t notice that you are NOT doing this. That’s why the damage done is mostly invisible. But they WILL notice when you say thank you right away. It will set you apart form others.

When people give money, there IS an exchange. They give us money. We notice them. We need to hold our end up.

I received the following message from a client the other day. It warmed my heart.

Today I experienced the impact of a prompt thank you. This morning I sent a quarterly donation to the Lancaster Farmland Trust. By 5 pm I had a phone message from the Trust thanking me for the donation. It was an outstanding call talking about how my donation will further the Trust’s work and help the farmers in their service area. I have to figure out how to get that message off my answer service so others can hear it. Thank you for helping us move in a better direction.


(Kudos to the Lancaster Farmland Trust!)


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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