Tree-Top Fundraising

Trees can die from the bottom up.

Photo by Sebastian Engler on Unsplash

Especially with Evergreens, if they’re not getting enough water, the lower branches and needles will die out to allow more hydration to get to the upper branches – the ones that get the most sun.  The lower branches may also be blocked from the sun by overgrowth from the top.

Both situations are relatively easy to correct with more watering and pruning off overgrowth to allow nutrients to get to all levels of the tree.

The longer the problem goes, though, the harder it is to fix.  Allowed to go for too long, though, and there are serious problems.

From above – from the 10,000-foot view – the forest looks green and luscious and beautiful and healthy.

joel-vodell-563936-unsplashPhoto by Joel Vodell on Unsplash

From below, it’s a mess.  And without a strong root structure and proper care, the tree will die.  And so will the forest.

The same is absolutely true in fundraising.

From above – from the 10,000-foot management view – everything is healthy and wonderful because you’re hitting the numbers.  You’re reaching goals and raising dollars.

But from the ground up, nothing’s working.  Renewal rates are plummeting, there’s no pipeline for new donors, there’s no acquisition or upgrading happening, the Board is not involved in fundraising – the list goes on – because there’s no care or feeding of the entire development infrastructure.

And all too often the “best” fundraising guidance is, “You can’t see the forest for the trees; you gotta get out of the weeds and focus on the important stuff.  The stuff that brings in the dollars.”

The important stuff IS the care and feeding of the whole development operation.

Data capture and entry, database management, donor receipting and acknowledgement, major gift prospecting, visit notes, giving page design and maintenance, direct response and digital strategies, social media engagement, list management and thousands of other things that go into the day-to-day management of fundraising.

But none of these show immediate returns on investment.  Very few have an actual, tangible income-to-budgeted, immediate return.

It’s why all-too-often we just report on budget goals and dollars-raised-to-goal.  Because we’re looking at the forest and not the trees.

Our donors and beneficiaries deserve better.

Maintaining a robust, comprehensive fundraising operation is critically important to the service the beneficiaries receive from our organizations and the donors who make that service happen.

Without it the forest dies.

The treetops aren’t going to die out while the arborist is pruning branches and improving irrigation.  But they will if she doesn’t.




  1. Mary Cahalane on October 2, 2018 at 2:07 am

    Such a good metaphor! Thank you for the wisdom!

  2. Linda Garrison on October 2, 2018 at 5:39 am

    This. Is so. Damn. Good. Bravo bro. #genius. Xxxxx


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