Tradecraft: Getting Meetings with Donors

Tradecraft: Getting Meetings with Donors


25 July 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


If I had to pick just one issue holding organizations back from raising more money, it would be this: Board members and senior staff don’t know the donors and donors don’t know the organizational leadership.

Donors will feel more comfortable making larger investments in conservation work when they trust the organization to do the work. And that trust gets built over time through direct interactions with leadership.

Conversely, look at the organizations doing spectacularly well. Often they have an Executive Director (and/or volunteer leadership) who has been in place for a long time. S/he has a small set of folks to stay in touch with. When the right project comes along, they pick up the phone and raise the money.

These ideas are independent of scope and scale. They are true for small all-volunteer organizations. They are equally true for large staffed organizations. They are true for $50 donors considering $250 investments. They are true for $2,500 donors considering $500,000 investments.

And just so it gets said again here, this “getting to know you” process includes ALL Board members.


OK, David, we know we need to get to know organizational donors, but how do we do that? Donors never answer when I call.

Right. Chicken and egg. I can’t raise more because I don’t know anyone, and I don’t know donors because I’m not raising more.

The answer is that there is NO magic fairy dust. The answer is elbow grease and shoe leather. The answer is that building capacity and connections is frustrating. So what? Get over it.


Here are several ideas, mined from my own experience as well as from other consultant writing. Perhaps you have other ideas you’d be willing to share. Pick up a thread here and run with it. In the years and decades ahead of us, you will be glad you did.


Get your own act together. Have something to say, to offer. A new project to introduce. An old project to update. A Strategic Plan to unveil. A new Board director or staff person to introduce. A puzzle to solve. A good start is simply to have two things to share and one question to ask.


Gather your own stories. Never been to the preserve? Go. Can’t remember the Plan? Re-read it. Take a fresh look at the statement of organizational values. See if you can think of a story that illustrates each of the values. Use them to get better at articulating why the organization is important to you.


Pick up the phone. Have a script ready but use it ONLY when leaving a message. (Otherwise, use your three talking points.) The message includes WHO you are, your cell phone number, and a request to call you back.

Then call back a week later, at a different time of the day and on a different day of the week. This time leave a longer message that includes a brief reason for your call. To brief them on progress, or share some exciting news.

Then wait another two or three days and call a third time, again picking a different time of the day and on a different day of the week. Start this message with “Oh shoot! I was hoping to catch you this afternoon. Please call me back when you can – ###-###-####.” Disappointed. Then follow this third message immediately with an email. Use “Trying to reach you” in the subject line.

Now wait three or four weeks. And send a letter or a greeting card. This message should be personal. It should contain enough information to generate curiosity and express regret that you have been unable to connect. Explicitly ask in the letter for a response. What the best way to communicate with you?

You may still get crickets in response. Fine. Cross them off your list and move on to the next person.


Host a series of engagement events. Engagement events work when the offerings are diverse. If you offer ten hikes, or ten educational talks, you will attract hikers or library lecture enthusiasts. In neither case will you attract more than half of your constituency. Instead offer 8-12 events and make them as diverse as possible. Your donors will vote with their feet.

Board and staff need to attend as well. That’s the whole point! So look for one or two people EACH that you didn’t know before and focus on getting to know them better. Introduce them to other organizational leaders.

And send them a personal follow-up communication. I was so pleased to meet you! I enjoyed …

Consider aiming for 40% of your annual donors having been engaged with these events annually. Which means that you will need to track it.


Host a series of themed updates. Map out a theoretical set of reasons someone might be interested in giving more to the organization. Geography, eco-type, outdoor recreation, land stewardship, community engagement, environmental education – whatever. Then create a series of short update programs that describe that program – where you’ve been, your current priorities, and where you’re going.

Invite people to attend the series. Perhaps these are cocktail receptions. Perhaps these are lunch-and-learns. Perhaps these are topical tours out on the land.

Make the formal part of the programs VERY short. Ten minutes would be a long program. The purpose is NOT to download everything you know. The purpose is to arouse curiosity. To get a conversation started. To stimulate questions and feedback.

Again, they will vote with their feet. The donors who show up will be the donors most interested in that particular part of your program. Find a way to record that information in the database.

And again, send them a personal follow-up communication. So nice to see you again! Build the relationship.

Also consider that some of these themed updates could be virtual. And if they were virtual, they could be recorded. And if they were recorded, links could be selectively shared. AGAIN – assuming a very SHORT program.



Not everyone will want to be cultivated. Not all those interested in specific programs will be capable of making major gifts. But these ideas will work well enough to get you started. And the effort will be worthwhile.

Meanwhile keep these ideas in mind.

  • Your membership is changing all the time. New people join every year and many organizations have 30-50% new members.
  • Often people don’t pay attention the first time they hear about something.


In other words, Rinse and repeat.

Rinse and Repeat.



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 Son Hoa Nguyen courtesy pixabay



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  • Dennis S. Main
    Posted at 17:09h, 25 July

    Great refresher pointers, David!! Thanks, as always!!

  • Jennifer Filipiak
    Posted at 08:42h, 25 July

    This is great, David, thank you! I and my Fundraising Committee are focusing on this right now, and it’s been fun (and frustrating when you don’t get those calls back and you feel like you are being a pest), but mostly fun!