Communicating with “People Who Give Money”

Communicating with “People Who Give Money”


5 April 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


In a by-the-book communications plan, you would define a small set of audiences with whom you want to communicate, identify the medium or media to which they are known to respond, identify the messages you wish to get through, and continuously measure your results.

Very few land trusts are even coming close to that.

In fact, we tend to start by treating everyone the same, using whatever medium or media with which WE are most comfortable, relay data instead of messages, and lean on easy outside sources for measurement such as open rates, likes, and shares.

We can and should do so much better – even without going back to communications school!


I could talk about some of the more common audiences for land trusts – land owners, hunters and fishers, outdoor recreationists, birders, local business owners, newly retired Gen-Xer women who have a latent interest in making a difference for the Earth through volunteering, and so on.

But my primary interest on this blog is “People Who Give Money.”


There are regional variations for sure, but People Who Give Money are generally between 50 and 80 years old. They are white, educated, and predominantly female. We can discuss at length whether this the audience we want, but as a gross generalization, this is the audience we have.

People Who Give Money absorb all kinds of media, but they tend to retain and be motivated by what they read in print. (At the same time, they don’t necessarily have time to read a lot, so they need to be able to “get it” pretty quickly.) And they are concerned that they are making good decisions with their money.

People Who Give Money tend to retain and be motivated by what they read in print. That means communicating electronically is great – multi-channel and multi-media – but to be as effective as possible, we need to communicate using paper – ALSO.

To communicate effectively with People Who Give Money, we need to recommit to our paper newsletters. Keep in mind that frequency is more important than weight, here. A four-page newsletter delivered four times each year is more effective than a 12-pager delivered only twice.

And what about the messaging?

  • People Who Give Money need to hear that their gift matters.
  • People Who Give Money need to hear that that they invested wisely.
  • People Who Give Money need to hear that their help is still needed.


People Who Give Money will absorb and retain messages that are easily and quickly read. Think about slightly larger print size, high contrast type, and 8th grade reading level. This is the kind of writing I’ve advocated for years for appeals. We need to start thinking about it for the entire solicitation cycle – cultivation, solicitation, thank you process, and even newsletters. Multi-channel, multimedia for sure – as long as the “multi” part explicitly includes paper.


Try this: Spread out the last two years of paper newsletters on your conference room table. (If you have gone paperless, you will have an empty table and all of your answers will be “no.”)

  • Do the newsletters you see communicate the above three messages?
  • Do they deliver gratification?
  • Do the “we-us-our” pronouns explicitly include the reader? Try highlighting these pronouns to give yourself a visual.
  • If someone were motivated to write a check, would it be easy for them to do so?
  • Do the articles focus on the difference donors are making? Or are they all about showing and telling readers how effective the organization is? Are there some 1st person testimonials, or are they all 3rd person narratives?


If the answer is “no,” or even “not enough,” consider making at least the following four changes:

  1. Make sure there is a return envelope enclosed in the newsletter – something a donor can use to mail a check back. And a QR code as well for those motivated to give online.
  2. Mail newsletters using an outer envelope addressed to each donor. Include just enough teaser copy to encourage donors to open the outer envelope. (“Your Spring newsletter enclosed” will work just fine.)
  3. Focus on emotional content instead of data:
    • accomplishments (lean on stories and not numbers) and how the members and donors made them happen (as opposed to how the staff or board made them happen);
    • one article about someone who benefitted from the land trust’s work and who is now saying “Thank You” to the land trust members and donors (extra credit if you write the letter from the perspective of a reintroduced species!);
    • one article about a donor, or even by a donor.
    • featured opportunities for deeper engagement (upcoming special events, volunteer opportunities, letter-writing, planned giving, and so on).
  4. Feature a cover story about a project, program, or outcome that still needs funding.


One last thing: the best communications don’t try to do too much. Let your newsletter be just for current donors and members. It doesn’t need to be written for lapsed donors, non-donors, and people whose only affiliation was to attend a special event or buy a hat. It doesn’t even need to be mailed to anyone but People Who Give Money. This is a specific communication aimed at a specific, well-defined audience. Let it be just that.

If your donor communications, and especially your newsletters, become more donor-centric, your renewal rate, five-year value, major gift potential, and planned giving prospects will all increase as well.


Then you might be ready to tackle one of the other audiences.


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 Tricia Gray courtesy of

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  • Alex
    Posted at 09:31h, 07 April

    This is a helpful blog as we have been discussing our print vs digital value in our marketing efforts when reaching donors. Would you mind sharing the sources for this information? It would be helpful to read some of these studies to see how they apply to our audience.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 06:05h, 08 April


      The internet is full of stories and studies that seem to argue both sides of this issue. For example, this one:

      Study: Donors React To Direct Mail More Than Email – The NonProfit Times

      In my opinion, most of these studies miss the point: it’s not what people prefer. It’s how they actually behave. In 2009, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in Pittsburgh went “all in” for digital and lost half their donors within three years. A few years before that, American Heart Association went “all in” for digital and calculated losses at $20 million within 18 months not including damage to their planned giving program. For whatever reason, even those who preferred email over letters failed to respond to email-only communications. Both organizations returned to letters pretty quickly.

      On the other side, Tom Ahern’s book, Making Money with Donor Newsletters, published in 2013, details several case studies including a homeless shelter in Memphis that kept adding paper newsletters as long as each newsletter returned more money than it cost to produce. They stopped at twelve, and most of their other metrics – renewal rate, average gift, planned giving, and so on – improved as well.

      The bottom line is that organizations need to do both. If you want to stay on top of current science and research on this and other topics related to fundraising, get a subscription to the The Agitator Blog: Agitator | DonorVoice (

      Thanks for the question and good luck!


  • Pat Powell
    Posted at 19:24h, 05 April

    Thanks for reminding us of these excellent tips. We adopted a large number of them and, wow, did it make a real financial difference. It is now easy to see if the donor is not the hero. And there are a number of ideas we are now ready to take on. Thanks so much for your blog. We follow it like the earth follows the sun!

  • Susi Acord
    Posted at 09:44h, 05 April

    All wonderful ideas…For a newsletter, I tend to agree with Jim’s point/question. The newsletter can be folded with the text right on the page and the remittance envelope can be inside with the right tabbing. I also try to use the word “you” as much as possible over “we” and “our” to truly make it about the donor.

  • Janet Happ
    Posted at 09:30h, 05 April

    Hi David, Please share your thoughts on refining a newsletter list. We have not removed people who we haven’t heard from in a while.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:47h, 05 April

      Janet – thank you so much for the question.

      I would send the paper newsletter to everyone who has made a gift of any size in the last 15 months – since 1/1/2021. I would send e-News to everyone in the database that has a valid email address.

  • David Lillard
    Posted at 09:25h, 05 April

    This one is an uphill battle with the organizations I volunteer with. The ones that still do a newsletter do only one annually. The donors must feel like: “How come I only hear from you when you want something?”

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:41h, 05 April

      Right! Not the best formula for encouraging repeat givers.

  • Jim Perry
    Posted at 09:03h, 05 April

    David, would you please explain the reason you suggest doing this (at extra cost)? “Mail newsletters using an outer envelope addressed to each donor. Include just enough teaser copy to encourage donors to open the outer envelope.” Our 8 1/2 x 11′ glossy print newsletter is folded in half with a mailing label.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:37h, 05 April

      Jim – thank you for the question. Newsletters mailed inside large envelopes that also include a self-addressed smaller envelope inside are opened and read more than newsletters that are folded over and tabbed. The metric is the number of envelopes returned in A/B tests. I always suggest you test this yourself. If you do, I’d love to hear about your results.

      • Jim Perry
        Posted at 10:11h, 05 April

        Thanks, David. We do put envelopes for gifts inside our newsletters, and we code them so we know where they come from. I will pass on the suggestion. We are always trying to analyze our ROI. Not sure the envelopes would add to our cost to 1000+ people.