Intentionality and Fundraising

Intentionality and Fundraising


24 January 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


There’s a fun story about three bricklayers who are asked what they are doing. (You’ve probably heard it.) The first describes laying each brick on top of the others so that the lines are straight in every direction. The second talks about making a wall that is tall and strong and structurally sound. The third says she is building a cathedral.

When we work through our to-do lists this year – write and send the appeal, organize the field trip, get the newsletter out – we would do well to imagine how the third bricklayer would describe our work. We would do well to bring a larger intentionality to our work.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  • The cathedral is the land protection we are helping make possible. It takes all of us, and our work in fundraising is vital to the end result.
  • The wall is the net result. “Net” meaning the amount of money we are able to provide for land protection, stewardship, and education after the costs of raising money are removed.
  • The bricks are the appeals, events, and relationships we are tending.


We bring intentionality to our fundraising work when each activity has a goal. An expectation. And a moment when we evaluate whether what we did was worthwhile.


January is the month to plan. I have started describing the planning work by making three mental divisions of the universe. The first division is to separate donors who have NEVER given money from those who have EVER given money. Consider that moving potential donors from NEVER to EVER is the goal of outreach work. What are we doing for outreach? How many “transfers” are we expecting from each outreach activity?

Can we do outreach work without necessarily expecting new donors and members? Of course we can. But that’s not fundraising. Some outreach work needs to be explicitly related to attracting new support.



The second division separates people who have EVER given money from those who have given money RECENTLY. “Recently” is somewhat arbitrary. I use 13 months for “renewals,” 24 months for “lapsed,” and 60 months for “appeals only.” Whatever the cut-offs, the more recently someone has given, the more likely they are to give again. We will boost our results if we include some mention of their past giving in our solicitations.



And the third division separates people we intend to cultivate, solicit, and steward as individual funders from those we intend to cultivate, solicit, and steward as groups or segments. I see many organizations using a one-size-fits-all approach and mailing the same appeal letter to everyone. Even if we mail one letter to people who gave less than $100 last year (asking for $50, $100, $250, or Other) and a different letter asking those who gave more than $100 last year (with an ask string starting at $100), we will raise more money. The more segments we have, the more money we raise.

Moreover, the segments do not need to be related only to what they gave last year. We can segment by geography or by affinity – what we know about why they are interested in conservation work.

The more segments we have, the more money we raise.



All the way down to treating individual funders as individuals. For example, as if they were foundations. Pick out a set of people you intend to cultivate, solicit, and steward as individuals. Name them. Think about who they are and why they give. When they give.

This is scalable. Start with as many or as few as you can handle. Calendar the date (or at least the month) in which each will be asked to give again this year – individually, as if they were a foundation with a grant deadline. How much will we ask for? For what? Why will they say yes?

Now calendar at least three individual contacts between now and that solicitation date. The contacts “count” if they respond. In-person will be best, but phone calls will also work. Letters, emails, and social media posts can also work but only if they respond to you personally. (Liking and sharing an e-news post is not a personal response.)



Every fundraising brick has a purpose. We will be more effective when we name it. Understand how it fits into the wall we are creating and the cathedral we are building.

And use that understanding to help keep our lines straight.


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 Felix Mittermeier, courtesy


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  • Heather Gaghan
    Posted at 11:52h, 24 January

    Thank you David for the visual and the logic behind it. I am grateful for the detail you share as it puts a tangible shape to the idea of intentionality.

    Posted at 08:49h, 24 January

    Thank you David for getting my head in the right spot as I start a new year and the planning that follows!