Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart

Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart


10 May 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


There’s a spot in Nebraska on top of a little rise where you can see grass all the way to the horizon in every direction. What you can’t see is any sign of human life. No roads. No power lines. No homes.

There’s a spot in Wisconsin, about a mile off the road, where an easy walk into the forest will take you to a small glade. And there, about this time of year, you can find delicate pale-white wildflowers poking up through the leaf litter. Emily Dickenson called the Ghost Plant or Indian Pipe her “preferred flower of life.”

There’s an island in Maine that you can get to only a low tide.

There’s a waterfall in Georgia.

There’s a cave in south Texas where 2.5 million female bats live (along with their 2.5 million babies).

There’s a lake high up in the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon that I visited as a very young man with a school group. I spent almost a week there playing and learning. In the years since then, I have taken three different groups there, sharing parts of that same experience with others.


There are two things to know about each of these spots: Each of them is protected. And each of them is mine. They are embedded in my heart, and I carry them wherever I go.

Each was in my head, too, at some point – theoretical, intellectual. The same way I knew that there are pyramids in Egypt.

And now these spots are in your heads, too. (Stephen King calls this telepathy. A thought or an experience is in a writer’s head, and it moves, sometimes over vast distances, and appears in a reader’s head.)

But they are not in your heart, yet. You don’t own them like I do. You can only own them by being there.


*   *   *   *   *

It’s time for my annual reminder that you guys need to get outside. If the national statistics still apply to fundraisers, many of you – maybe even most of you – will be reading this within your first several years on the job.

Is there a project you haven’t seen, a trail you haven’t hiked, or a river calling to you to bring your kayak? Or think about this: you understand conservation easement monitoring, right? At least intellectually? This summer, make it a point to tag along on a monitoring visit with a land steward. Understand conservation easements in a different way – in your heart. Own them.

Make your plans now. Now’s the time – GO!


In the thirty-plus years I’ve been fundraising for conservation projects all over the country, I’ve had dozens of memorable experiences. Each trip, each experience, each step along the way, I learned a little bit more. Some of it I have remembered in vivid detail and some has faded away. But each place and each wonder has become “mine” in some interesting and important way – embedded in my heart.

By going there, and by looking and learning, these theoretical third-person “head” narratives became first-person “heart” testimonials. Instead of “I learned about,” it has become “I saw, I heard, I smelled, I felt, and when I was there …

Whether you are an Executive Director, another staff member with fundraising responsibilities, or a Board member, giving yourself permission to make these stories personal by visiting the sites for which you need to raise money will help you a lot. You will become more effective when you talk about them. It will help you imagine taking donors there – so they can “own” them, too.


And it will keep you motivated.


If you are a Board member, I have a special challenge for you. Ask a staff land steward or local naturalist to take you on a tour of one of the preserves your organization is protecting and show you the conservation values there. Go on an organized field trip if there is one.

Then, within four weeks, LEAD a similar field trip to the same location. Knowing you will be leading one will help you listen the first time with a different level of attention and remember different things about the site. Note that the people going with you on the second trip could be anyone – friends, family, neighbors, work colleagues. The point is to practice, and your trip will have value regardless who comes along. And encourage your fellow Board members to do the same.


The point is – GO!

Now’s the time. Find your story. (Hint: This is the fun part!)

Get these projects out of your head and into your heart.

And if you supervise others, give them permission. Give everyone the afternoon off one day and show them one of the lesser-known projects. (You get extra points if you take a Board member with you!)

Change their perspectives from third to first-person, too.

It will keep your entire team motivated.


And that’s enormously helpful for fundraising, too.

My son once told me that he wanted to share something with me because it helped make it real for him. I knew immediately what he meant.

You need to do the same thing and for the same reason. And then you can do it for your donors.


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 Alexandra Koch courtesy of Pixabay.


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  • Jen Hajny
    Posted at 11:02h, 17 May

    I LOVE this post! Thank you for striking a chord.

  • Becky Abel
    Posted at 15:31h, 11 May

    Thanks, David. This is my favorite column you have written, among many good ones.

  • David Lillard
    Posted at 13:56h, 10 May

    You just gave me the opening line for a letter. Thanks! An an idea for onboarding new board members. Thanks for that, too.