K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid)


2 April 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


In a perfect world we would know – really know – every single donor who gives money. We would know how they found the land trust in the first place. We would know how old they are and the stage of life they are in. We would know how they prefer to be communicated with and what kinds of communication they respond to. We would know which programs and projects they are most interested in.

And we would tailor our communication to their specific interests.


If we actually did this, our system would begin to fall apart after about 40 donors. We are simply incapable of knowing everyone that well, especially accounting for the fact that some people don’t want to be known that well. With a fantastic database system, we might be able to stretch that to 100.

So we take shortcuts. We segment. We theme. We diversify. All good.

But it’s inefficient. And we have other things to do! (Don’t get me wrong, here. We absolutely SHOULD do as much individual tailoring as our bandwidth will allow. But at some point we will need to use our time to reach everyone else.)

So, we strive for “efficiency” by sending everything to everybody.

Not so good.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Our website landing pages include 5 options for giving amounts, an option to make my donation monthly, options for applying my gift to one of six program accounts, options for opting out of the paper newsletter and tote bag, options for volunteering, and an option for leaving the organization in my will.
  • The critical information an attorney might need to prepare a bequest for the land trust is buried on a Ways of Giving page that includes information on Donor Advised Funds, Required Minimum Distribution information, gifts of stock, and volunteering.
  • The end-of-year appeal letter is built around a full recitation of all the accomplishments during the year including two or three easement acquisitions, the status of the restoration work, how many field trips were conducted and where, the $100,000 grant we got from Parks and Game, and how many people came to the annual meeting.


You get the idea. In each case, it’s better to keep it simple. It’s more work and less efficient on our end, but the results will speak for themselves.

The (main) landing page might just offer two options: $35 and Other. That means we will need multiple landing pages, most of which will be hidden. When we ask people to give monthly, we can send them to a different landing page.

The great majority of prospective planned gift donors aren’t going to our website to learn about all the options for doing that. They are looking for the legal name, address, and EIN of the land trust. Make THAT information super easy to find. It should have its own webpage. “It’s easy to Leave Land Trust in Your Will.”

And our appeal letters should just make one case for giving and be relatively tailored to what they gave last year. Make it emotional. Make it simple. Make it easy.

You want people to give money? Ask them to give a specific amount (called an “anchor”) and then invite them to consider a gift that is right for them. If you need to ask most people for $50 and some people for $100, or $250, or $1,000 because that’s what they gave last year, then you will need more than one letter. And if you’re sending these same people to your website to give electronically, then you’re going to need more than one landing page.

Want people to sign up for monthly giving? Ask them to sign up for monthly giving, and keep the amounts much lower: $10, $15, $25 and so on.

Want people to consider leaving the land trust in their will? Provide simple, easy to find instructions for doing so.

Want people to volunteer? Ask them to volunteer.


Wait … what?


For one statewide organization, I suggested that they do exactly that: use a direct mail appeal to ask for volunteers. For that specific statewide organization, there was very little correlation between members and volunteers. The members tended to come from population centers, whereas the volunteers tended to come from areas closer to the preserve projects. Well-staffed, remote volunteer projects would often include few members, whereas projects closer to where members lived would struggle to get work crews together.

So, why not try directly asking people to volunteer in the Spring Appeal, I suggested, instead of asking for money and then including an option for volunteering as an “also ran.”

To my knowledge, they never did. (If you have ever tried something like this, I’d love to hear about it.)

But that’s not really the point.


Why is offering more choices – everything for everybody – “not so good”?

Because the more choices someone has, the more intellectual their decision-making process becomes. People give emotionally – from their heart, not their head. So offering more choices actually makes it less likely they will give at all.

Because the more time it takes to give money, the more likely they are to stop and go do something else.

Because the more information you provide, the harder it is for someone to find what they need.

Because people are more likely to respond to stories than information and data. Use the space to tell one story in a compelling way, as opposed to several stories.


This year, keep your appeal letters and emails simple, and think about creating more than one landing page – tailored to the variations in the letters. Tell stories and make them emotional. Let the stories demonstrate organizational values instead of reciting organizational accomplishments.

Make your request specific and simple. (You can still use an “ask string” in the response device or landing page, but the letter should ask for just one of the specific amounts.)

And keep your email solicitations to just one request.


Single issue – SIMPLE – requests tend to be clearer and more focused, easier for busy people to understand quickly. And more people will tend to respond.


Love to hear your thoughts.


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 Marna Buys courtesy Pixabay



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  • David Lillard
    Posted at 08:39h, 02 April

    I like this idea of a targeted letter just for monthly giving. It seems like something to try with people who give regularly at modest amounts; and that this is a way to help them give more in a way that’s more manageable for them. How do we communicate with monthly donors in an annual appeal? Should we do a special year end letter to them? Like: your monthly donation is so important, we wanted to give you the opportunity to do this other big thing? Also, Does this same strategy work with donors who give larger annual gifts?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 20:01h, 02 April

      The monthly donor program experts I have listened to recommend mailing appeal letters to all of your monthly donors. Some will give in response, and that is always welcomed. But there is also good evidence that people learn important information about the organization’s they support from the appeal letters.

      For annual renewals, try mailing a special letter asking for a conversion to your monthly program about six weeks after they renew their annual gift. “Some members are beginning to give monthly through their bank accounts and credit cards. It spreads out larger support gifts and evens out the revenue for the organization. Monthly members are recognized as members of the Conservation Club, which hosts a special appreciation event every year in June. If this is something you’d like to try, complete the enclosed commitment form and mail it to the office. Or scan this QR code to sign up on line.”

      Also, consider securing a matching gift as an incentive. “If you can give at least $15 monthly, an anonymous couple will make a $250 gift to the land trust in your name.”

      Thank you for your questions!


      • David
        Posted at 12:10h, 04 April


  • Jim Bonesteel
    Posted at 07:36h, 02 April

    Everything you say makes sense. But ….. you don’t tell us how we get them to the correct landing page. Do we send some people to ourwebsite.org/donate1 and some people to ourwebsite.org/donate2 and some to ourwebsite.org/donatemonthly? What if they just visit the home page? How do we get them to the right place so they don’t have to make too many decisions along the way? Sure, we can use QR codes but how many people want to use those? I think, that this problem of how do manage the nuts and bolts is what has kept us, and perhaps many orgs, from implementing this idea in a real way. Are there any good examples of web sites where this has been successfully implemented? Thanks as always for the great posts.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 19:50h, 02 April

      The missing link, I believe, is that second and third and tenth landing pages do not need to be “discoverable” by those wandering around the website. I could make an argument that the DONATE button on the HOME page should take someone to a simple landing page, and that the DONATE button on the XYZ project page should take someone to a different landing page, but we don’t even need to go that far. Suppose you had three “renewal” landing pages that looked identical to each other except that one offered options for $50, $100, $250, and OTHER and a second offered options for $100, $250, $500, and OTHER and a third offered options for $250, $500, $1,000, and OTHER. And suppose that these landing pages were not pages that were linked from within the website logic but were otherwise found directly using their own unique URL. Now you can use a QR code in a letter, or a hotlink in an email or social media post, to get someone to the landing page you want them to see. You could even have a landing page JUST for monthly donors.

      Hope this helps. Thank you for the questions!


  • Sally Cross
    Posted at 06:50h, 02 April

    Yes, and why not include the EIN# on the footer of your webpage? Recently spent several frustrating minutes on the phone with a donor who was updating their retirement account beneficiary designations – finally found the # buried deep on the page.