Follow-through and Follow-up

Follow-through and Follow-up


30 August 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


One of the more frustrating parts of a fundraiser’s job happens when people don’t actually do what they said they would do.

OK – any job.

  • Donors promise a reply by Tuesday and Friday rolls around without a word.
  • Board members say they will write Thank You cards and somehow never get them into the mail.
  • Colleagues promise the data you need by the end of the week, and you still don’t have it for your meeting a week later.


Accountability is a common lament. How do we hold people we work with accountable? How do we manage “up”? How do we create a culture of accountability? For that matter, how do we hold ourselves accountable?

The truth is that we’re all busy. And it’s worse since 2020 with everyone working from home. We promise things because considered individually, they seem completely reasonable. And then we get distracted. Or things take longer than expected. Or the weight of the 40 things we’ve said Yes to starts to create its own stress.

I’m talking about myself here, of course. But I’m also talking about nearly everyone I work with.


So let me offer three “coping mechanisms” for working with others. And I would invite you to “pile on” in the comments below.


Follow-through – Creating a Culture of Integrity

So how do we create a culture of integrity? I like using the word “integrity” versus “accountability.”

I think it probably has to start with us. And it has to start with being aware of the weight of our current obligations. It’s perfectly reasonable to promise that report by the end of the month – considered by itself. But is it reasonable given all the other things we’ve also promised by then?

How do you self-organize? Are you a list-maker? Do you use a calendar? Phone apps or paper?

Whatever it is, being known as a person who always follows-through is the first step in creating the culture you want. When you’re ALWAYS on time, everyone will forgive you for being occasionally ten minutes late.


Anticipate Your Follow-up

Similarly, we need to keep track of things people promise to us. Instead of waking up two weeks later and wondering what happened, make a note to follow-up.

The trick to follow-up is in the anticipation. You can’t control what other people do, so control what you do instead.

  • Email your donor with an offer to “help.”
  • Ask Board members to let you know when their letters are in the mail so you can check it off your list (And email an offer to help when they don’t.)
  • Leave committee and working group meetings with a list of what everyone (including you) committed to. Send the list to everyone “to make sure I captured everything correctly.” Ask for a confirming response.
  • Communicate with your colleagues that a) you know they’re busy, b) that the report you’re waiting on is really important to you, and c) that you just want to bring it back to the top of their list. I get email occasionally with the subject line “Just wanted to bring this back to the top of your inbox.” How lovely is that?


Follow-up is important in fundraising even when they haven’t promised anything, but still you have asked them for something. Follow-up your appeal letters with a second letter “hoping you didn’t miss this in the mail.” This is true for email as well.

Follow-up your event invitations with email or phone calls noticing that their names are not yet on the RSVP list. “Hope to see you there!”

And after the event:

  • So great to see you
  • Sorry you couldn’t make it


I think some of our frustration comes from the expectation that everyone will do what they say they will without follow-up from us. So an antidote is to plan your follow-up in advance.


Treat People as Individuals

I’ve often quipped that staff will never be able to hold Board members accountable. It’s cliché, but it’s also a common experience.

When you’re working with a Board, try working with a single member of the Board instead of “the Board.” The Chair perhaps. Or a Board member who has a reputation for follow-through. Ask that person to lead by example and do so publicly. Ask them to report on their experience at Board meetings.

Avoid assuming that so-and-so never gets their work done and then extrapolating that to the whole group. In fact, it might help if you called that person individually – just them – to check-in before the promised deadline.

This dynamic is also true for development staff trying to hold their directors accountable. Making donor stewardship calls, for example. In this case, where looking for someone else to lead won’t work, try shortening the timeframe in between check-ins.

For an Executive Director always there for you, maybe monthly check-ins are enough. For EDs a bit more reluctant, try checking in every week or even every couple of days.

Bring your request up to the top of their inbox.

And keep doing so.


Love to hear your thoughts. What are you doing to create a “Culture of Integrity.”


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 World Wildlife courtesy of



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  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 11:53h, 30 August

    One of my colleagues uses Trello and I’ve dabbled with it too. It’s free and easy to use.

    The other option is to consider Little Green Light. It’s an inexpensive CRM that allows you to manage contacts — and you can assign yourself (or others!) task (and get those reminders).

    • Robert Ross
      Posted at 12:04h, 30 August

      Thank you Heidi.

  • Craig A. Westcott
    Posted at 10:04h, 30 August

    check out for a similar workflow recommendation/mantra distilled into digestible infographic format. WARNING: there are two “swear” words in the diagram that may not be appropriate content for all viewers; I framed this to hang in-between my two teenage sons’ bedrooms and find that it’s principles, if not the delivery thereof, really resonate with my work with all demographics.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 10:20h, 30 August


      I LOVE this. Thank you for sharing it!

  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 09:43h, 30 August

    Nice post. Thanks, David! And, hello!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:56h, 30 August

      Thank you Creal. Good to hear from you!

  • Robert Ross
    Posted at 09:15h, 30 August

    My biggest problem is not having a management system that reminds me when to contact people. Any ideas on a simple, one person that works? Need to keep track of about 400 people. Thanks.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:48h, 30 August


      Most integrated calendar systems (Google, Outlook, and so on) allow you to create and calendar tasks directly from your calendar view. Google is the system I use, and creating tasks is relatively simple. So is setting up reminders. Unfortunately, you can’t create a task from within the contacts feature (without creating an “appointment”). Regardless, I don’t use Google for task management, because I need a larger array of sorting and filtering options. I use ToDo-ist, but it’s hardly the only one out there. Most of these project and task management systems have a free option and then start charging you to create more capacity.

      Other readers might have other ideas.

      Thank you for writing and thank you for your question.