Are We Panicking Yet?

Are We Panicking Yet?


24 May 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Last week, I promised you a blog about strategies for recruiting new donors. I’m still going to post that, but I’m putting it off a week.

Because the stock market is down 20%.

And I’m sensing a level of concern about it. Someone even hit me with the “we can’t be tone deaf” card. Ouch.


The implication of this concern, in all of its various forms, is that we can’t or shouldn’t ask for money now because people have lost money in the market. In my opinion, this is just boneheaded.

It more likely represents a deep discomfort with asking than a real concern about people’s stock portfolios.

Let’s start here:

  • The first reason people give money is that they want to see something done. The reason they give it to us is because we are doing that something, and they trust us to get it done.
  • What we are doing – in most of our cases protecting land, conserving natural spaces, providing access to Nature, “producing” clean air and water, mitigating climate change, and so on – is IMPORTANT work, URGENT work, and TIMELY work.
  • The FODs (Forces of Darkness) are also working – converting farmland into housing, stripping off and selling topsoil, splitting large tracts into smaller and smaller tracts, spreading nutrients and poisons, and so on.
  • The most important limiting factor for us is the amount of money we have to work with. Money translates into staff capacity and land acquisition capital. Contributions – of all sizes – are important, urgent, and timely as well.
  • We ask for money from people who believe what we believe. Because people will give more when we ask. Because some people will give at all because we ask. Because NOT asking sends a message that giving IS NOT important, urgent, and timely. Because NOT asking is the same as saying NO for them – taking their choice away.


ALL of those things are true. NONE of those things change because the market is down.


About 15% – one in seven – of Americans are directly invested in the market. That’s DOWN from 2001 as the wealthiest Americans have continued getting wealthier. Another 40% are indirectly invested through retirement funds, mutual funds, and so on. All of these investors will experience the market drop differently, depending on their individual situations. Some will over-react. Some will give less money away.

Inflation is another concerning factor. Gas and groceries are costing more and more just in time for summer vacations. Some people will experience inflation differently, depending on their individual situations. Some will over-react. Some will give less money away.

All of those things are true. They just shouldn’t affect our behavior.

Because what we’re doing is important, urgent, and timely. And that doesn’t change with the market.


What can we learn from past periods of economic stress?

  • Some people will reduce their giving. They tend to give less by giving to fewer organizations – not by giving less to everyone.
  • One of the areas to watch particularly closely is the monthly giving donors. When donors feel stressed, one of the places they look at is what’s coming out of the accounts automatically. Cancelling those auto payments helps people feel more in control.
  • Organizations with strong connections – strong engagement – with donors tended to be the ones least affected.
  • Foundations are a different story. Many foundations reacted to the recession in 2008 and 2009 by halting all new grants.
  • Business giving was not quite as predictable. Business giving was related more to the specific industry than to the state of the economy.


What can we do?

  • Increase the frequency of all donor communications, but especially tangible communications like paper newsletters. Frequency is more important than weight. Fill the pages with messages of importance, urgency, and timeliness. Touch, move, and inspire through storytelling.
  • Call people to say thank you right after they’ve given.
  • Use the land – create additional engagement opportunities this summer and fall to get people out onto the land – to see firsthand that their giving is producing real results. Things they want to see done.
  • Ask people – sensitively – to give, to renew, to invest, and to increase their commitment.
  • And if they can’t or won’t for any reason, be thoughtful and gracious in response.


In other words, now that the market is down, we should keep doing all the things we know work. All the things we should be doing anyway.

And if it takes an extra week, month, or even year to meet the goals because of the economy, so be it.


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 KIMDAEJEUNG courtesy of Pixabay.


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  • Lee Schiller
    Posted at 09:49h, 26 May

    I’ve only been reading this blog for a few months and have found it very interesting. I’m not sure what your point is in distinguishing between the 7% who invest “directly” and the 40% who invest “indirectly” – the impact is real for both and the distinction is not particularly relevant to your other points. I suspect (but have no data) that conservation donors, especially those in the top half based on size of donations, are more likely to be in the market than the general population. Regardless, I certainly agree that conservation is important and urgent.

    Under “What can we do?”, being prepared for some decrease in fundraising probably makes sense. Do you have any data that shows a possible correlation between conservation giving and stock market performance?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 19:29h, 26 May

      Thank you so much for your comments and questions. Hopefully this will help clarify some of the points. First of all, the 40% who are indirectly invested in the market through retirement funds and so on are less likely to base their giving decisions on what the market is doing than the 15% who are directly invested. So, the percentage of our donors who DO base their giving decisions on what the market is doing is likely to be relatively small. Still, your point is still valid – few people will see the market down 20 points and INCREASE their giving in response. My point however, was less about how donors will change their giving and more about whether we should change our cultivation and asking. We shouldn’t. A – because the percentage is fairly low. B – because donors tend to reduce giving by giving to fewer organizations. And C – because the antidote to bad economic conditions is to get to know donors as individuals and treat them that way as well. Which is what we should be doing even in a bull market.

      Again – thank you so much for your comment!

  • Sharon Weaver
    Posted at 19:48h, 24 May

    Amen! Thanks for this good common sense message. A down market is a great opportunity! Stocks are on sale -don’t panic – invest!

  • Amber
    Posted at 10:09h, 24 May

    As usual, a great message and very timely! Thank you for sharing the trends and lessons learned from similar times. The FOD do not rest, and our work is important now more than ever!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 10:31h, 24 May


      Thank you so much for your comment! Keep ’em coming, and keep up the great work you guys do in Texas.