Seven Reminders to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Fall Fundraising

Seven Reminders to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Fall Fundraising

8 August 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


If you think about it, you will ask every person connected with your land trust to make a gift between now and year’s end. HOW that happens and WHEN that happens are still changeable.

  • SOME people will be “renewing,” meaning that they made a gift last year but haven’t yet made a gift this year. This requires a “renewal” letter – usually on the short side and followed by reminders.
  • SOME people will have already made a gift this year – they will be asked to make a second gift. This requires a different kind of letter – an appeal letter – much longer in general (four pages!) and based around a story.
  • SOME people will have given a gift in 2021 or even before that and will not have given since. They can get the appeal letter, too, but it should be modified slightly to emphasize “coming back.”


And for most, the money raised between Labor Day and New Year’s represents more than 70% of what you will raise the entire year. As you complete your summer plans and prepare to enter the Fall fundraising season, here are some timely reminders to help you get the most from your efforts.


You’re raising money from people who already give you money.

As tempting as it might be to appeal to lots of people who don’t know you yet, marketing will cost you money. Under most circumstances, you will spend more money recruiting new donors than you will gain from their contribution.

Now is the time for fundraising. So focus on communicating with and soliciting those who have made gifts to you in the past. This explicitly includes immediately past LAPSED members and donors.

This is not to discourage recruitment – just don’t do it at the expense of raising money!


Use email and social media, but don’t depend on it.

You will get whatever you’re going to with email and social media – including Giving Tuesday – within a couple of days. After that, the world moves on. Definitely use it – those who will give or renew off an email or Facebook message will cost you very little. There just won’t be many of them. I’ve had several people tell me that they got and ignored five or six emailed renewal notices. But when they got the one in the mail, they quickly went to their computer and renewed online. (And don’t confuse online fundraising with online giving!)

It is worthwhile to evaluate Giving Tuesday results without including gifts from Board members. Presumably they would have given regardless. Also, consider that the most significant result from Giving Tuesday might be the matching gift. Most of the time, that gift was not solicited electronically.


Follow-up with third and even fourth communications, even with letters.

Follow-up can feel like badgering, because it would for us. But that assumes that people are receiving what you are sending and saying No. Most often, that’s not the case. Some are receiving and delaying, but most are simply NOT receiving.

If you’re emailing, email four or five times in a couple of months. If you’re sending letters, send two or three in that same span. If you’re calling and leaving voice mail, call again in a couple of weeks. Most people have good intentions, but it’s easy to put things aside and hard to remember to come back to them.

Reminders work.

Keep in mind that different channels support each other. A phone call reminder works wonders for event invitations. And if one of the renewals hasn’t responded after several letters, call them, too. Emailed reminders and social media can support paper appeal letters.


Face-to-face is better than any other contact medium.

You know this. Face-to-face is more effective than phone calls. Phone calls are more effective than personal letters. Personal letters are more effective than form letters with personal notes. And so on.

So get yourself out the door and meet donors in person to the limit of your availability (and their willingness to meet). Bring them to the land if you can. Take advantage of time you can spend with donors at special events, including field trips and small events such as house parties. Thank them! for their loyal support, and ask them to look for the annual appeal letter in the mail.

And remember that there is great cultivation value in the invitation, even if you can’t meet in person.


Use the phone!

Pick up the phone and call people. Most of the time you’ll be leaving messages, and that’s OK. Work from a script so you don’t fumble your words, and use the message to remind people of the time of the year and of the letter or email you just sent them. Be sure to mention your title as well as your name, and leave your cell phone number for them to call back.

HINT: You WANT people to call you back!


Save your images for the envelopes.

Don’t complicate your letters visually by embedding photos into your letters. They tend to draw the eye of readers more strongly than anything else, and normally they don’t communicate the message that “it’s time to renew” or give again. They might be pretty and graphically pleasing, but you only have so much of a reader’s attention span. Don’t waste it.

Instead, choose a photograph to be printed on the envelope. It will help your letter stand out in the mail, and might help more people open the envelope. There is a strong correlation between people who open the envelope and people who respond (by giving money). Anything you can do on the envelope to help people WANT to open it will help you raise more money. Embedded photos in the letter itself will detract.


Thank donors immediately.

Gear yourself up for an immediate acknowledgement process. Don’t wait. In many important ways, you are operating in a competitive environment. If the donor’s other three charities thank them within a day or two, you don’t want to be the one sending a thank you letter two weeks later.

The reverse is true as well. If other charities take weeks, sending letters out immediately helps you stand out in a positive way. Also, think about saying thank you in several different ways. Perhaps an immediate letter or email could be followed by a more thoughtful handwritten card or call from a Board member.

Did I mention using the phone?



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 ADD courtesy pixabay



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  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 15:23h, 09 August

    All great reminders!

  • Alex
    Posted at 15:20h, 09 August

    I always assumed that photos are critical to appeal letters, much in the same way they are used for other forms of appeals. An endangered species, a cute fuzzy mammal, or smiling kids enjoying free recreation all seem to tell part of the story without using words. This article prompted me to research some of my assumptions, and I’m surprised to learn that many in the industry encourage few or no photos in the mailed appeal letter (just as you state). Thanks for opening my eyes to this!

    This fascinates me from a personal level, where I disregard most written text in mailed appeals from non-profits and focus on the pictures and the info graphics in appeals. When those aren’t present, the letter is usually deep-sixed. Taking my professional hat off, the only text I read in my personal life from non-profits are the ones not asking for money (self-reports, blog posts, new articles, things written by “frontline” staff, public funded grant reports)–they tend to tell a more complete story about an org’s troubles, issues, successes, and output. But when it comes to an appeal, send me a donate-QR code and a photo that’s so beautiful I’ll stick it on my fridge (like the massive headers on American Prairie Foundation’s letters).

    Further, if I’m already a committed donor (annual, monthly, legacy…), at that point, I just need a gorgeous visual reminder of the types of things my donation supports, and a quick prompt to “donate again, more, support a match…”. (If I can stick it on my fridge, even better!)

    I also wonder if this is in part generational. Younger audiences (under 45) are signing up for “digital only.” New hires and volunteers in our office have to be taught where to place a stamp on an envelope, and even how to write an address (they are recent college graduates). Mail, to some folks, is antiquated, for junk and bills, and can even be confusing. We’ve had to field more than one call on how to use a remit envelope, and where to put it in the mail. Also, younger audiences are used to social media fundraising and crowdfunding, which is largely photo based with a very personal appeal text.

    As you state: know your audience. In some cases, I could see how particular donor bases rely on visuals to get them excited to donated. I would count myself as one of them.

    I love the idea of testing this out (as you suggest to Deanna).

    • David Allen
      Posted at 16:24h, 09 August


      Thank you so much for writing – there is much to unpack here. First of all, let’s look at the idea that someone LOOKS AT an appeal letter versus READS an appeal letter. Very few recipients actually read an appeal letter. If they open it, they just look at it. If the message they get from their glance is “Time to renew your membership,” or “please make an extra gift this year,” then the letter will have been successful. And to a large extent, many people respond in exactly this way. For these people, it doesn’t matter whether the letter has an embedded photo in it or not. But for everyone else, if their glance lands on the message, they respond. If it lands on a pretty (or cute, or amusing, or landscape) picture, they are less likely to get the message and the response rate plummets. The reason to avoid using embedded pictures is that it distracts some readers from the message.

      Second, year-over-year repeat giver (renewal) rates across all nonprofits are pretty low – organizational loyalty is low in general. In fact, MORE money is being given away, but fewer donors are engaged. Many people, including me, are not satisfied with 50% renewal when we know that 75% is possible. And we attribute low renewal rates and diminishing donor loyalty to the substitution of paper appeals and paper newsletters with email, social media, and crowdfunding. Everything works to some degree. But electronic media is WAY behind paper in efficacy, and it’s not remotely close. Further, there’s little evidence (yet!) that it’s generational.

      Two areas of research are relevant here. The average age of land trust donors across the country (60 land trust data sets and counting) is between 66 and 67 – and holding steady. One can argue that land trusts with average ages less than 66 are more effective at communicating with younger donors. I can buy that. But one could also argue that those same land trusts are LESS effective at communicating with older donors. And frankly, older donors are giving away more money and showing more loyalty. Given the choice, I’ll focus on honing my communication skills for older audiences.

      The other is that over the past six or seven years, I have been looking at five-year values for new land trust donors across the country. If someone made a first gift in 2018, how much (on average) will that person have given over the course of their first five years – through the end of 2022? About 40 land trusts of all types and sizes have participated so far. The range is from $190 to more than $8,000. The median land trust experience is $800. Land trusts with $6,000 and $8,000 average values are land trusts actively engaged in the public phase of capital campaigns or who are otherwise engaged in raising money for projects. Most of the land trusts with values less than $800 have largely abandoned paper communications.

      Third, let’s not confuse electronic solicitation with electronic gifting. This IS generational. As you say, some young people can’t figure out remittance envelopes (part of the reason I dislike remittance envelopes!). But a) Millennials are not a monolithic group – not all young people are equally confused, and b) plenty of young people receive something in the mail and go online to give. As you say – send them a donate-QR code.

      Last, here’s where I do think there’s a generational difference. By and large, we’re talking about donor communication here. And we’re measuring how donors will respond by how WE would respond. In my opinion, this is almost always a mistake. Right here and at this moment in time, most fundraisers and donors are from different generations. They value different things, they respond to different media and messaging, and they have different approaches to giving and philanthropy. Further, many people don’t actually know how they respond. Several high-profile fundraising flops have happened when nonprofits changed over from paper to electronic fundraising, believing they were doing so in response to donor preferences. Simply put, donors said they would respond to electronic media if the organization stopped “wasting” paper – they probably even believed it in the moment – and then they didn’t.

      Testing is always the preferred answer. The real trick lies in believing the results.

      Again, thank you so much for writing. Keep up the great work in Washington!


  • Deanna Frautschi
    Posted at 08:50h, 08 August

    Still don’t know if I agree with not having a pix within letter as long as it doesn’t dominate but I do like the idea of one on the envelope

    • David Allen
      Posted at 12:50h, 08 August


      This is super easy to test. If you do, please share the results, so I can.

      Thank you!