What Would it Take?

What Would it Take?


11 May 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Last week, I wrote about the limited-term possibility that has suddenly loomed (or perhaps bloomed) in front of us. (See Pep Talk)

  • Biden’s 30 by 30 plan
  • People getting outside more.
  • New levels of climate change awareness.
  • More people asking what they can do.
  • More disposable income.
  • Cheap money leading to development pressure.


What do we have to ride this wave? Several years? A decade? Regardless, it’s time to be aggressive. It’s time to move.

I can’t take full credit for pointing this out – other people are seeing it, too. And with varying levels of concern.


Judy Anderson wrote to me recently:

I’ve been talking to a number of land trusts about the 30 x 30 initiative. As you know the Alliance is talking about it—and so are other key organizations.

The idea that we have to ramp up conservation is something land trusts love. The how is another matter.

ALL of the land trusts are stressed out. They are swamped already. They are turning away gifts of easements, gifts of land, volunteers, in-kind donations… because they don’t have the staff time to handle them.

When I ask if they can hire more staff, they all say no.


Why not? What would it take?

Frankly, I’m seeing the same things. We want to be sensitive to staff and volunteers. We need to take care of each other. Stress and burnout are not acceptable. So why not grow to meet the opportunity?

Instead, the response I’m seeing is to ramp down. Turn away gifts of land and easements, turn away volunteers and in-kind donations, let some worthy projects go. All because we don’t have the staff time to handle them.

When I ask if they can hire more staff, they say no.


What would it take to say yes?


What would it take for you to say yes?

What would it take for your land trust to take appropriate care of its staff and volunteers?

What would it take to ramp up conservation AND ALSO reduce stress and burnout at the same time?

What would it take to not need to say NO?


Consider it a thought experiment: what would your organization need to look like? More employees? How many more? Could you/should you consider part-time? Limited-term? Contracted?

What else is in the way? Office space? Equipment? Technology?

And what would THAT cost?

Figure it out.


Then reverse engineer that result.

Divide by your average gift. That’s how many donors you will need.

(Alternatively, make an assumption of how much you might be able to increase your average gift by asking for more, or more often, or by employing better techniques, or by engaging your donors more directly in project work.)

Now multiply the number of donors needed by your attrition rate (one minus your renewal rate). That’s how many new donors you will need to recruit – each year.

And multiply by the amount of money necessary to recruit a new donor. That’s how much money it will cost. (I recommend doubling that number or it will take you 20 years to ramp up.)

Now consider fundraising staff. How many will you need? What will the fundraising budget need to be to get that part done?


I’ve been doing this for a long time. Most organizations I meet plan their land protection and stewardship work years in advance. Aiming at a specific defined result. But these same organizations plan their fundraising based only on what they raised last year. If there was ever a time to look ahead and invest in building the organization you need – changing strategies if needed – now must be it.

The organizations that have gotten over their fear of putting forward a larger vision than would be supported by last year’s fundraising have generally found that new levels of success can be met.

When we start with a vision of what we need to be able to raise every year beginning at some specific point in the future, we can make it happen.


All of this can be done.

We plan for everything else. It’s time to plan for fundraising.

We are scientific about everything else. It’s time to get scientific about fundraising.


And now is a good time to rise to the opportunity – and challenges – before us.



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 Robert Woeger courtesy of Pixabay.



Share this!
  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 10:24h, 11 May

    I think this long-term, big scale dreaming/visioning work is really important! Thanks for this post, David!

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 09:19h, 11 May

    1. Build the trust of your executive committee and board to support you on your leadership and decisions.
    2. Be brave – If you build it they will fund.
    3. Be strategic – when an unexpected, unrestricted gift comes in (e.g. bequest), use it to build capacity.
    4. Be brave – if you ask, they will give.