Giving Thanks: Tips for Acknowledging Supporters at Year’s End

"Saving Land" "Land Trust Alliance"From hand-delivering boxes of local fruit to personalizing notes on thank you letters, there are many ways for land trusts to recognize their supporters at year’s end. Of course, thanking them is critical, but how you thank them can help your land trust stand out in the crowd.

Here are several tips on how your land trust can distinguish itself when thanking donors this year, garnered from nonprofit fundraising experts. One tip that rises to the top: personal is always best.

1) Put thought into a meaningful, affordable gift. Like a present you’d carefully choose for a close friend or family member, the perfect gift is a reflection of both the giver and the recipient, says Illene Roggensack of Third Sector Innovations in Colorado. “The gift should be meaningful to him or her and also ‘feel’ like the land trust.”

Roggensack’s favorite example of a well-chosen donor gift comes from her home community in western Colorado, which is renowned for its peaches. Each year, a local health care clinic director would drive to Denver with a load of peaches and deliver them to the clinic’s grant funders.

“The grantors loved those peaches and probably even came to expect them,” says Roggensack. “This gift was a unique representation of both the nonprofit and the community it serves, and went a long way in furthering the relationship with the funders.”

A small, personal gift, especially when it comes as a surprise, can help a land trust convey to volunteers, partners, landowners and donors that the organization cares about them as people, says Judy Anderson of Community Consultants in New York.

“If your mission includes farming and local food, delivering a locally made pie as an unexpected thank you can really make someone feel special,” says Anderson. “Remember, however, that the messenger is just as important as the thank you gift. You want someone who is engaging and happy to chat.”

2) Send thank you letters that are personal and positive. A nonprofit thank you letter should be more like a warm and relatively short greeting card than a formal business letter, counsels Kivi Leroux Miller of Nonprofit Marketing Guide & EcoScribe Communications in North Carolina. “Even if your thank you letter appears on stationery, think of a good Hallmark card as you write,” advises Miller.

When donors feel valued and appreciated as people, they are more likely to trust and support an organization, says Anderson. “Friendly, conversational and informative thank you letters are key to building greater connections with supporters. Ideally, you want to know what they care about, and tailor the thank you letter toward that topic.”

The ideal thank you letter should relegate tax language to a postscript or footer where it won’t detract attention from the letter’s emotional appeal, says Beth Hershenhart of Innovative Resources Group in New York. “Too many organizations focus thank you letters on the cold, impersonal IRS required language,” says Hershenhart. “They have squandered a critical opportunity to genuinely thank their donors for their generosity. I advise land trusts that taking the extra care to acknowledge each donor—perhaps including the length of time that he or she has supported the organization or referencing a particular interest or concern—will pay dividends.”

Some groups take the personalization one step further, crafting homemade cards, including photos from their work or enlisting board members to pen handwritten notes. “Even just a handwritten sentence or two from a board member in the margin of a formal letter makes the thank you more personal and sincere,” says Roggensack.

For institutional funders, Esther James of Esther James Grant Consulting in New Jersey, recommends that land trusts mail a summary of their key achievements through the year, including a “call to action” for 2013.

“Because people are bombarded by holiday mail, it’s a good idea to keep your messages simple and upbeat,” James says. “White space and photos are as important as words. Rather than exclusively focusing on your organization’s internal changes and accomplishments, your letters should communicate that your land trust’s work is complementing the motivations and aspirations of its supporters.”

Roggensack recommends one way to avoid getting lost in the holiday mail shuffle: “I personally like the idea of board members getting on the phone to say thank you.”

3) Amplify your message with social media and technology. Social media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, shouldn’t replace your land trust’s yearend paper mailings, but they can be used to amplify them, “expanding the number of people who see the content of the letters and enhancing the online credibility of your nonprofit,” says James.

She suggests that land trusts “tweet” a shortened link with a catchy hook to a website page where supporters can find engaging content from year-end letters. “Very few people will click on a link that is billed as ‘Land Trust Year End Letter 2012,’” says James. “Your Twitter message should highlight whatever it was in your letter that would add value to a reader’s day.”

Similarly, land trusts should go light on text when posting year-end letters to Facebook, including a vivid photo instead. Posing a question that followers are asked to answer is a good way to engage Facebook audiences, says James. “Your year-end letter can offer a great opportunity to invite  your supporters to share their own ideas for your land trust in the year ahead.”

Bell suggests providing a “gratitude report,” which could take various forms, from a print report with inspiring imagery reflecting the impact of the donations to a video of the organization’s staff and leadership expressing personal messages of gratitude. “Whatever form the gratitude report takes, the most important goal is to make sure that your donors truly understand the impact of their donations and that such support is deeply and unconditionally appreciated,” says Bell.

4) Share. “The end of a year is a special time to reflect on what you—the staff, board, partners and donors—have achieved together; we are all on the same team,” says Albert Joerger, president of The Joerger Group in Florida. “In my messages to donors I always say I want to create a community where my children will want to live. I like to give a glimpse into what it feels like to be a conservationist. I try to convey how humbled I am by their gift. Capture their heart by sharing yours.”

Published in Land Trust Alliance’s Saving Land magazine, Winter 2013




Life Is Sweet at Bella Viva Orchards

"Victor Martino" "Bella Viva Orchards" "Peeled Snacks" "Denair California"

(Left to right) Angela, Vivian, Belle and Victor Martino of Bella
Viva Orchards in Denair, California

Business has grown steadily at Bella Viva Orchards in Denair, California, since owner Victor Martino decided to transform his family’s fruit orchard into a dried fruit operation that sells at farmers markets in the Bay Area and to companies like Peeled Snacks, an all-natural snack company now partnering with American Farmland Trust.

When Martino took over the family business from his father in the early ‘80s, the orchard had been selling its fruit wholesale to large companies like Del Monte. “I didn’t like the idea of working all year and bringing the fruit of our labors down [to the canneries] and saying what will you give me for it?,” Martino says.

Once he started drying the 50-acre orchard’s many fruits—which include cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, persimmons, nectarines, plums, apples, grapes, figs, lemons and more—Martino discovered that customers really enjoyed the dried fruit, and his business grew. “People are looking for healthier food choices all the time and we offer an all-natural piece of fruit,” Martino says. “And more people are looking for a product that was grown regionally and for products produced in the United States.”

The climate in the Central Valley, where Martino and surrounding orchardists grow their fruit, is the “best in the world,” he says. But only 100 miles from the Bay Area, the threat from development pressure looms. That’s one of the reasons Martino is happy to be growing for Peeled Snacks, a socially conscious company who recently began donating a percentage of their proceeds to support the work of American Farmland Trust.

“We especially like to deal with people who are passionate about what they do and interested in supporting California-grown and American-grown produce,” Martino says.

Published in American Farmland, Spring 2010


The Power of Nature: Wisconsin’s Eco-Fruit Program Supports Growers

"Wisconsin" "apple orchard" "Tom Griffith" "Door Creek"

Apple grower Tom Griffith, a participant in Wisconsin’s Eco-Apple program

“My kids used to have a joke about me standing and looking out the window, wondering what was going to hit next,” laughs fruit grower Tom Griffith, who along with his wife Gretchen operates Door Creek Orchard in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin.

It’s an incredibly picturesque farm with fruit trees planted next to rolling fields and acres of woodlands, wetland and restored prairie. A small farm store sells yarn and mutton chops from the Griffith’s sheep in addition to pickyour- own berries that attract customers from the nearby cities of Madison and Milwaukee.

Kidding aside, Griffith—a former high school biology teacher—speaks to the myriad difficulties of fruit growing, where a new pest infestation, fruit disease or disastrous weather event is often just around the corner.

But a program called Eco-Fruit, a partnership between University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association, is helping growers stave off potential problems to their crops while protecting human health and the environment.

Known as Eco-Apple when it started in 2003, the program matches growers with IPM coaches, connects growers to each other and offers weekly conference calls during the growing season where orchardists and IPM experts share information about pest activity, disease prevalence and possible solutions.

“There are so many facets of the program that I benefit from,” says Griffith. “It just gives me another set of eyes. Gretchen and I are the chief cooks and bottle washers here. We can’t always scout for pests when we need to. It’s very hard for a small grower who’s doing everything already to get all of the IPM work done. And a lot of people are also working off the farm too.”

Farmers who participate in Eco-Fruit agree to use IPM practices instead of spraying pesticides based on a traditional calendar schedule. Instead, they spray on a more limited basis depending on the weather, data about pest and disease levels and other factors. Although trained coaches advise growers on IPM strategies, growers are an integral part of the process, advising each other through local networks.

“When I went to IPM, the biggest change was throwing away calendar spraying and learning there are a lot of different ways to do things,” says Griffith, who first learned about IPM 25 years ago while attending fruit school in Michigan.

“I started trapping,” he explains. “I became more aware of what I needed to watch out for. I quit using some of the materials that caused some of the problems. When Eco- Apple came along, I think it’s gotten me re-energized to get back into some of the details. It’s been good to hear what growers around the state are doing.”

In the first five years of the program—started in part with a grant from the EPA’s Strategic Agriculture Initiative—participating growers reduced their pesticide risk by 58 percent and increased their reliance on IPM strategies by 33 percent.

Jim Lindemann, a Dane County apple grower in one of Eco-Fruit networks, is now studying to become an IPM coach. “The real fundamental thing is developing a set of resources,” he says. “If there’s one skill that’s a prerequisite for being a good orchardist, it’s knowing where to look for help. There are answers out there—somebody has dealt with the problem before.”

Story and photographs by KIRSTEN FERGUSON
Published in The Power of Nature [PDF], a joint publication of American Farmland Trust and the Environmental Protection Agency, September 2012

"Door Creek Orchard" "Eco-Apple" "Cottage Grove" "Tom Griffith"

Door Creek Orchard in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin

All-Volunteer Land Trusts Accept the Challenge


The success of any organization relies on reputation. But reputation can be especially important to small land trusts that are staffed solely by volunteers, as they often rely primarily on gifts of donated conservation easements to meet their land preservation goals.

As Charlie Tennessen learned while serving as a board member of Wisconsin’s Caledonia Conservancy, an organization’s positive reputation can turn a casual chat with a potential easement donor into a valuable land transaction years later. “In a land trust, things are long-term,” he says. “You may talk to a person at a picnic, and then five years later the conversation leads to results. Being professional and solid really means a lot over the long haul.”

That understanding was a driving factor behind the efforts of Charlie and the Caledonia Conservancy—which is dedicated to preserving a trail system for equestrians, naturalists and outdoor recreationists—to become accredited through the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

“Once you’re accredited, you can say to prospective donors, ‘Look

what we’ve done. We’re a solid organization. We’re going to take care

of that land.’ Accreditation helps you sell that idea.”

—Charlie Tennessen

Although admittedly time-consuming, Charlie believes the accreditation process gave his small, all-volunteer land trust the credibility it needs to protect their most coveted pieces of property. “The stamp of accreditation will allow the organization to grow in the future,” he says. “Once you’re accredited, you can say to prospective donors, ‘Look what we’ve done. We’re a solid organization. We’re going to take care of that land.’ Accreditation helps you sell that idea.”

Clive Gray, board chair of the all-volunteer Greensboro Land Trust in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, echoes Charlie’s belief that the accreditation seal—earned by his group in 2009—will be critical to future efforts to preserve farm, forest and open land in the picturesque lake town of Greensboro. “On one of our latest easements, the landowner said he wouldn’t be interested in donating if we hadn’t been accredited,” Clive says.

That is not to say accreditation was easy for both groups, with Clive taking the lead on ushering Greensboro Land Trust through the process of collecting information, adopting new policy statements and finally finishing baseline documentation reports for their easements.

At Caledonia Conservancy, Charlie chaired a committee that took more of a group approach to the accreditation application, parceling out duties to board members from every part of the organization. “I think that made a difference,” he says. “Now the organization understands its own policies and procedures, and understands why it has them. If policies are in the way and you don’t understand them, they’ll get ignored.”

Clive agrees that the experience strengthened his organization. “I think it was a very healthy process and I would recommend it,” he says. “One feels part of a collection of land trusts that have passed a certain hurdle. It’s made us feel very good. I think it would make other small land trusts feel the same way.”

Published in Gaining Ground, Land Trust Accreditation Commission’s 2011 Annual Report