Two Loser Arguments for Giving Money

Two Loser Arguments for Giving Money


28 September 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


There are two case arguments that have never been particularly successful in raising money. The first is the Field of Dreams argument: If we build it, they will come.

In this argument, the idea is that people will spontaneously notice us and support us without significant expenditures on our part. Or that all we need to do is tell people what we are doing without actually asking anyone to help. The central flaw is that people don’t notice. They are too busy noticing the other 6,000 nonprofits in our area that are spending money to get mission messages out in places that will grab their attention – and then asking for help.


The other argument is the God’s Work argument – that people will give us money because we are doing God’s work and deserve to get funded. The flaw in this argument is that people don’t automatically give money just because we deserve it. They give money because we are doing things they want to see done.


The first loser argument is hopefully obvious, but let me give you an example of this second one. An organization with which I am familiar has included DEI training for their Board members as one of their strategic priorities. And DEI training costs money. So they identified several foundations known to fund DEI training and applied for grants.

And got nowhere.

Apparently, the organization was not alone in their DEI interest. Foundations regularly report receiving up to $100 in requests for every $1 they have to grant, so they are frequently in the business of denying grant funding. Which is what happened in this case. (We could argue about whether DEI grants should be more important to American foundations than whatever else they are funding right now, but that feels pointless.)

Regardless, one of the Board members then took it upon himself to write a heartfelt appeal letter. Critically important work for the Board to do – now’s the time, especially in light of everything going on the world – the organization has an obligation to build relevance much more broadly in the community and that work must start with the Board – and so on. Please give now. He even offered to match all contributions on his own.

And got nowhere. Not a single response.


That it’s the right thing to do, that now is the time to build relevance, that the work must begin with the Board, that this is God’s work – these are all true.

They are just not reasons donors support the organization. They are just not related to what that organization’s donorbase wants to see done. They (probably) want to give money to see land protected, restoration work, and trails, boardwalks, and information signs.


Pro-tip: If DEI training is on your agenda, if this is really important to you, then you should fund it yourselves – because it’s important to you.


This all makes logical sense. But we get it wrong, to varying degrees, all the time. First off, do we know – as in know know – why our donors give money? HOW do we know? Have we asked them in a survey? On social media? Have we talked to them on the phone?

Presumably, they support the mission, but does that mean prairie restoration, salmon habitat, invasives control, open space, public access, environmental education, or climate change mitigation? Or something else?

Whatever it turns out to be, it is probably NOT:

  • 25th anniversary
  • Meeting an arbitrary, unrestricted fundraising goal
  • Providing health insurance for employees
  • Board DEI training


Frankly, I am surprised that the organization did not receive a single gift. Usually there are at least a few donors who respond to just about any request message. It’s sad, really. But including DEI training in an appeal letter is organization-centric when donor-centric is needed.


One possible alternative might be to send an appeal letter asking for unrestricted support to help more effective land conservation. Pick up the pace. Broaden organizational reach. Influence the next generation of conservation leaders.

And then use the money raised to fund DEI training for Board members.

Because DEI training will help the organization do all of those things.


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 Ian Livesey courtesy of



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1 Comment
  • Judy Anderson
    Posted at 19:40h, 28 September

    Exactly. Working with a couple of donors who see the value of DEIJ training might work. But even then the “why” has to be less selfish- relevance to the land trust misses the point. Serving more people in ways that are meaningful to them, finding ways for those who have been left out to be welcomed and included so they too can cherish the lands and waters like others, is stepping forward so you can give back.