Emotional Reasons to Give to Operations

Emotional Reasons to Give to Operations


19 March 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I read a lot of land trust appeal mail. You should, too. I recommend it.

Some of it is really good. A lot of it is not. But what I notice more often than not is that the letters betray a discomfort in asking for the gifts. Instead of joyful, they are defensive. Instead of describing opportunities, they describe needs. And instead of telling stories to “show” people, they rely on bulleted accomplishments that “tell” people what they are doing.

Most of these letters are informational appeals asking for unrestricted money – money that can be used for operations. They describe projects in terms of acres protected. They describe annual events based on how many people attended. As if we need to quantify what we’ve done as justification for asking for more.

Look at all the stuff we just accomplished. But we have so much more to do! We can get there with your help.


We need to get out of these “stale” habits. And 2024 is a good year to start.


Here are six emotional arguments for making an extra operations gift this Spring. See if you can work one of these into a fundraising letter that will raise more money.


I want to help the land trust be there next time

Tell a story about what it meant to the family to see the land they love protected forever. Try not to use any numbers, but talk about how the land trust was there for them when the time was right.

Now this property is protected forever, right here in ________________.

But I’m sure you already knew all that.

You were part of that story.

You and hundreds of other members and friends made sure that when the time was right, the family got the help they needed. ______________ is protected forever now as a result. Thank you!

I am writing to you today to invite you to be part of the next story. Your $100 gift right now helps make sure the land trust is ready when the next project comes along.


I want to help with something compelling (that is a part of the operations budget)

Pick out some part of the operations budget that you can request funds to support. There is a risk in this strategy, because it is tricky to word the request such that the money that does come in is unrestricted. In other words, if you tell people in your letter that you’re raising money to support an intern program, the money coming in is probably restricted for that purpose. So pick something that needs more funding than will likely come in from the appeal.

Again, use the story of one intern’s experience rather than telling people about how many interns were served this year.

The Conservancy’s internship program is an opportunity to invest in the future of conservation. Your $100 contribution today will help make sure there are knowledgeable and skilled people – people like Sam – who understand and care about land and water resources well after we’re gone.


I want to join the Donor Circle!

Imagine having a special group of members and donors who give $365 each year. Refer to them as “Everyday Conservation Champions” or “Everyday Land Stewards.”

Now imagine having one of them step forward and agree to be a host for the year. Ask this host to help draft a letter in their own voice, asking people to join “us” in supporting the land trust in this important way. Make sure you enclose a list of all current members and donors already giving at that level in with the appeal letter.

Look at all the people who are choosing to step up to the Everyday Land Steward Challenge!

Come join us by making your $365 commitment today.


Every dollar I give is multiplied

If your land trust receives money from state and federal grants for land acquisition and other capital projects, those grants would not be possible without dedicated time and support from those who wrote them. Not to mention the match requirements many of these grants require.

I’ve seen leverage calculations ranging from 3:1 to more than 20:1. But here, you don’t want to be too specific because the actual leverage will vary from year to year, and because there is no evidence that greater ratios will result in greater generosity.

Last year every dollar raised from the appeals leveraged more than $10 of conservation work. It’s not every day that you can make a gift that results in such impact.

Please help continue this highly leveraged conservation work by making a $100 gift today.


Someone else will give if I do

My good friend Bob has given me new language to use with matching grants. Here’s what he says: Use “a generous couple” rather than “an anonymous donor.” And tell people that the couple “will make a gift in your name” instead of “money will be released from a matching grant.”

If you can make your gift of $100 or more today, a generous couple will make another $100 gift in your name to the Conservancy.


I’m curious about what’s in the envelope

The truth is that most people won’t read the letter. In fact, most won’t even open it. So kind of like the subject line in an email, you have to put something on the outside of the envelope to make people at least a little curious about what’s inside.

Like maybe a native seed packet, or a maple (or oak) leaf, or a bookmark, or the answer to a riddle, or a riddle!, or a window cling, or a heart-shaped paper clip, or a …

Something interesting.



Whatever you do this year for your appeal, imagine first WHY some specific someone might open the envelope, respond emotionally to the story inside, and be touched, moved, and inspired enough to send money.

Then write THAT story to THAT person.


It probably goes without saying, but I’d love to hear of your experiments and your experience.


Cheers and Have a Good 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 RheaHoldstock courtesy Pixabay



Share this!
  • David L
    Posted at 08:10h, 19 March

    It’s kind of like saying, “When I buy a new car, I don’t want any of my money going to pay the salaries of the women and men who built it, or the janitors, or the quality control people.” In reality, there is no such thing as operations spending; it’s an idea made up along time ago and perpetuated by many government grant programs that specifically prohibit spending on salaries. The truth is, every penny is spent on the mission.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:12h, 19 March

      So true (sigh). That said, we still need to raise money that is unrestricted – that can be used for operations or anything else, for that matter. So, we need emotional arguments for giving money without restricting how it can be used. If you have other arguments you can add to my examples, I’d love to hear them.

      Thank you for the comment!