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Newsletters
2014
14.10: The Ugly Truth
Is "prettiness" cost effective?
14.11: Competent on purpose -- PART 1
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
14.12: Competent on purpose -- PART 2
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
14.13: Competent on purpose -- PART 3
What every fundraiser should know about donor comms, IMHO
14.14: "Dear Numbskull Robot...." My name's Tom, not Thomas
How MoveOn.org stupidly and avoidably lost me as a donor
14.15: Online giving soars to almost nothing
There was a massive amount of little to report for another year; why print won't die
14.4: Part 1 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.5: Part 2 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.6: Part 3 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.7: Part 4 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.8: Part 5 - Dr. Adrian Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty
Charities that get straight A's in 7 things reap the rich rewards of contented donors.
14.9: Will good grammar save us?
Your 10th-grade English teacher was right ... about nothing related to sales.
2013
13.01: Composing a satisfying thanks: Wikipedia did
One way to build trust is by answering questions before they're asked.
13.02: Know thy customer ... Who's buying you?
Customer satisfaction. Customer knowledge. Serious marketers obsess over them. But not fundraisers.
13.03: Want to deepen your "culture of philanthropy"? That requires adding so-called "social information" to your messaging stew.
Social Information = Donor Growth Hormone
13.04: Bequests -- The other white meat?
"Planned giving" might well be a major marketing misstep....
13.05: What things make me generous? Confessions of a donor.
Speaking from the heart.... Why I give
13.06: Confessions of a donor ... part 2!
"Donors spotted near deep-ocean hydrothermal vent..." What do we really know about them?
13.07: The charity newsletter: Friend or foe?
Getting past your unprofitable fears
13.08: We're looking at advertising the wrong way
Proposed: A new set of messages for nonprofits
13.09: Major gifts or more gifts: Which is better?
When "tomorrow comes" will your nonprofit still be in the same uncertain financial shape? That depends.
13.10: "Poverty Porn": they know not what they say
"Idiot savants." Minus the savants.
13.11: "Trust me, kid. This is worth its weight in gold."
6 true things
13.12: Sean Triner on Direct Mail
The room stilled. Sean picked up the microphone....
13.13: Maybe it's the desert air....
Selling the unspeakable
13.14: In defense of the endangered indent
The special "decline of Western civilization" edition....
13.15: As "giving season" thuds our way ....
One small resolution...
13.16: Workers of the nonprofit world, unite! Pretty please?
Revolution ouch?
14.1: Fundraising is about money. And the moon's a hunk of stinky green cheese.
Breaking news from Bratislava...
14.2: Do you retain or do you renew?
14.3: What I learned in 2013
2012
12.01: Following in the footsteps of your promise
They chose your charity for a reason, when they gave that first time. Your donor newsletter should reflect, not neglect, that reason.
12.02: Charity newsletters
Extraordinary experiences ... for the rest of us.
12.03: The brain according to me
Neuroscience is the most important force at work in fundraising today. Or it should be.
12.04: Cheryl and Kathy ask good grassroots questions
About donor newsletters & more
12.05: Why we put a lot of charity in our will
The secret life of donors
12.06: Are thanks really necessary?
Some experts say, "No."
12.07: Readers of this newsletter rise in defense of thanking the heck out of donors. Trinkets get the boot.
No thanks? "No, thanks!"
12.08: "Dear Thomas..." or "Dear Tom..."
How would you like to be addressed? Does your favorite charity's database know the difference? Probably not.
12.09: What role do e-newsletters play in fundraising?
They're lousy at bringing in donations, a veteran copywriter observes.
12.10: Now entering the fundraising arena: the next big generation of donors. In the US, they will be ages 55-75.
Rise of the baby boomers -- again?
12.11: So, there!
Email newsletters don't get results? Some highly indignant email fans beg to powerfully differ.
12.12: The person signing your appeal might wonder...
Why does good direct mail sound so weird?
12.13: It's the wrong answer to a great question. So let's do something else.
Elevator speech? Ride to nowhere.
12.14: Tell little stories all over the place. The human mind laps that stuff up.
Notes from neuroscience
12.15: "Non-profit?"
Donors have no idea what you do with their money. And frankly? They suspect the worst!!!
12.16: Meet Jane
Your "One size fits all ages" appeals ignore a juicy fact: a 70-something is way different than a 50-something.
12.17: Look, your newsletter is in fact a "customer service experience"
And the content donors like to read? It's what charities so rarely say.
12.18: The Warren Buffett lesson
A printed annual report is a different experience than an online annual report, for a couple of reasons.
2011
11.01: The nuts and guts of a successful bequest-sales strategy
Proper bequest marketing, per Radcliffe, part 2
11.02: A troubled mind walks into a bar
A few things I want to get off my fat-flated chest, as 2011 ignites.
11.03: The 5 Realizations Approach
Finding the Path to Donor Nirvana
11.04: Most donor communications do not achieve anything like the desired results, thanks to an error as common as salt in sea water
The Hidden Killer - A Simple Misunderstanding
11.05: B4 u do yr annual report
Repeat after me: "I am a marketer!" And consider a few donor-friendly models, for inspiration.
11.06: "Dear donors: We're happy to say, we have switched to a digital annual report."
Happy? R U really so sure?
11.07: How a $1,000 gift was born
Does your staff know what to say to strangers, should the occasion arise?
11.08: Which is your next priority, younger donors or boomers?
An infatuation with younger donors can distract you from the real work at hand: cultivating boomers as they start their bell lap.
11.09: Is that your future calling?
Lately, my crystal ball is waking me up ... with unnerving predictions
11.10: Playing to lose
What happens when know-nothings are allowed to outvote the fundraiser? A sure-fire recipe for failure.
11.11: Social Information: A gentle nudge in the right direction
Dr. Sargeant finds that the mere mention of what another donor gave leads to copycats & increased giving
11.12: You're selling forest. You're not selling trees.
Donors give to the mission. If you're getting great results, feel free to spend their gifts as you see fit. (Though Charity Navigator might disagree.)
11.13: Meet AIDA: the sales formula, not the opera
This oldie but goody makes writing a direct mail letter faster and far easier.
11.14: The Verbatim Rule
You know, it just makes sense.
11.15: In direct mail, all responses, even complaints, are good
Hoping you'll offend no one? That's the wrong star to wish on.
11.16: The "planned giving" newsletter: Does anyone really need these things?
Pity the trees that died in the pursuit of lackluster results.
11.17: The Domain Formula for donor newsletters
Certified Proven (unlike the others)
2010
10.01: Idiot's guide to time management
I fidget, you fidget, we all fidget.
10.02: Donor profiles in your newsletters: Worth the trouble?
They can lead to bigger things ... or nowhere. You decide.
10.03: Young heads are different heads
Are younger donors alive ... or dead to you?
10.04: Is direct mail dead? (No, it's just dull.)
My goal? Entertain the heck out of the reader.
10.05: "I'll never give you a penny again!" Music to my ears.
Here's a terrific direct mail concept the client refused to try. Take it if you want ... and if you dare.
10.06: Your strategic plan = your case for support?
No! Don't! "The bridge is out"!!!
10.07: Oh, man, did Dale Carnegie have it right.
How to win friends and influence people: Donor bequest edition...
10.08: Why gifts matter
They buy impact and self-esteem
10.09: Why, oh why, don't they trust you?
"Because I don't pee like Jesus."
10.10: How to produce powerful case statements
Approvals, the delicate art of
10.11: Connecting gift and impact
The 2 dots that matter
10.12: The outrageous Mr. Radcliffe wishes a word
Bequest marketing the right way
2009
9.01: Does your boss or board chair get to approve your stuff? Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Sad but true: Most donor communications are built to fail
9.02: If your paper newsletter is a flop, switching to electronic won't help.
Two key questions answered about newsletters
9.03: I just wrote a couple of appeals for a big hospital. This time I took notes. Here's how to get a better letter.
Your next direct mail appeal: Will it burst into song?
9.04: "Deserving charity"? There's no such thing.
No one owes you a gift, as this "inside a donor's mind" report makes clear.
9.05: Take the Donor-Centered Pledge (or die)
23 rules to live by (instead)
9.06: Straight to trash? The avoidable, sad fate of most annual reports
Entertain me with stories. Put stats in perspective.
9.07: Writing a fabulous case is easy
You're just answering questions
9.08: Bill's amazing "Warm Words" campaign
Bill Pratt decided to raise something other than money for once, and joyous response flooded in
9.09: A campaign case is a series of talking points
Report from the front lines
9.10: The perfect "eventless" fundraising event
Arts charity raises money year round: Pick a day, any day. And fund it.
9.11: Are you a funds-raiser or a funds-depleter?
Basing your metrics on acquisition is like trying to bail a boat with a sieve. You work hard, but you still sink.
9.12: Dr. Sargeant says you're only doing half your job
And he has the data to prove it.
9.13: Release your inner archer: Learn to shoot message arrows
Targets? The vulnerable hearts and curious minds of your donors
9.14: Valuable direct mail concept absolutely free
Do you have the guts to try something different? My client didn't.
9.15: Deciding what goes into your donor newsletter
Here's the easiest explanation I've ever come up with
9.16: Qualityspotting
How do you know when your donor materials are strong enough for the outside world?
2008
8.01: Acquiring new donors through direct mail: Measuring success
Measuring donor acquisition programs
8.02: Why is giving by bequest so rare in the U.S.?
Reviving your "death brochure"
8.03: Would you buy a mattress from this charity?
What you do vs. why you matter
8.04: How to write a good donor-centric headline
Writing a winning headline
8.05: Does your stuff suffer from jargon breath?
Adopt a zero-jargon policy and you'll raise more money
8.07: What is news?
Making donor news the right way
8.08: Obama's Web 3.0 campaign: Rewarding role model? Or risky distraction?
Are e-newsletters dead?
8.09: Richard Radcliffe has your back
Are you marketing bequests? (Right.) Or "planned gifts"? (Wrongo.)
8.10: When you're feeling a little irrelevant...
Do you know the real you? The one donors really care about? Likely not, thanks to the "curse of knowledge." But there's an easy way (fun, too) to see yourself anew. Read on.
8.11: The dirty truth about cases
Bitter truth? Maybe a quarter of the cases I'm hired to write never reach the finish line. Interesting tale, that.
8.12: Why won't paper die?
Everyone's drumming their fingers, waiting for paper to expire as a communications medium. Sorry.
8.13: Can direct mail be a cash cow for smaller nonprofits? Think "cash calves" instead.
Mass-market expectations yield disappointing results at local levels. Take heart, though: direct mail is about far more than instant cash.
8.14: "Hi. My name's Inertia. And I'll be disappointing you from this day forward. I know you have many obstacles to surmount, so I'm thrilled that you've named me Number One."
Meet the enemy: Inertia
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
3.01: Analytical types: Good to the last objection
Part one of four personality types...
3.02: Amiables: Smile and say "Howdy!"
Part two of four personality types...
3.03: Expressives crave the new
Part three of four personality types...
3.04: Bottom-Liners leap to conclusions (and that's a good thing)
Part four of four personality types...
3.05: Are you interesting (especially to donors)?
Communications basics...
3.06: The Abraham Lincoln lesson
Case basics...
3.07: A surefire story formula
Case basics...
11.02: A troubled mind walks into a bar
A few things I want to get off my fat-flated chest, as 2011 ignites.
Ted Hart was kind enough to invite me onboard his online "blogtalkradio" show, The Nonprofit Coach, streamed live to your computer's speakers every Tuesday at noon. (Subsequently available as podcasts; well, so they say. I couldn't figure that part out.) As a guest on Ted's show, you get to write questions in advance. I wrote questions and answers.

------

"When do you really need a case for support?"

Always. It doesn't matter whether you're sending out a direct mail appeal or chasing millions for a capital project: you need to know what you're selling.

It's a common flaw: having no better reason for your "ask" (direct mail or in person) than a weak excuse like "...because our cause needs money."

A major hospital group I know in California has held its own philanthropically for the last two years, against the sucking drain of the Global Economic Crisis, which has knocked 20% off giving at many charities. Why? It's simple, I think. The hospital's foundation has articulated a strong, brief case for support that is repeated and reinforced in every direct mail appeal. The case goes like this:

Insurance pays for ordinary healthcare, yes. But extraordinary healthcare - the kind you count on [here, at the hospital that serves you and your family], the kind that attracts national awards - is only possible thanks to donors like you.

Do you need confirmation that focusing on a single easy-to-understand and emotionally relevant message makes a big difference? Read (as I am right now) the business best-seller, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. It will change your life, almost guaranteed.

------

"Is direct mail dead?"

No. But it is deadly boring.

Direct mail is still the best way to get into most homes.

But you have only 1-3 seconds to make a good impression in today's attention-deficit-disorder society. Most of us, after all, throw away most of our non-personal mail most of the time. It's brutal. And yet, what an opportunity....

Job #1 for today's direct mail writer is to be a good guest ... which means, you have to be entertaining. There are a thousand ways to entertain. Here are two that always work:

ONE: Be grateful.

TWO: Surprise me. This commandment is "merely" neuroscience: human brains are hardwired to pay more attention to things that are new and different (as opposed to routine and familiar). If you surprise me, I will pay attention.

I no longer think of a direct mail letter as "just a" conversation (per George Smith). Now I see direct mail letters as, each, an intimate speech (per Barack Obama, MLK, FDR), saying something special to thousands of hearts who share my values.

Furthermore, there's this: When you're writing direct mail, pretend you're writing to a bloke, not a ponce. You'll end up sounding friendlier.

When I write direct mail appeals, personally? I pretend I'm writing to a TV sit-com Australian. [[ Or to Sean Triner, licensed poisonous-snake wrangler and co-founder of Pareto, a world-important direct mail house based around Sydney. ]] Why? Because I can easily imagine such a person. (And the accent's cute.) Because in America (my home port), Aussies are thought to be proper English ... without the reputed anal broomstick.

Look: you have to have someone in mind when you write direct mail. Otherwise, as Peter Jackson, the NZ-based movie director of Lord of the Rings said, "You'll turn out boilerplate crap."

------

"What is the biggest problem you see today in fundraising communications?"

Easy.

The single biggest pitfall I see today that SERIOUSLY reduces giving is the utter absence of donor-centricity in almost all donor communications.

If it weren't actually true, it would count as one of the great practical jokes of business history: We're trying to raise money from people we ignore. Candid Camera plays outlandish pranks like this -- but that's just for giggles.

Alas, in the nonprofit world, it's no joke. It's an industry. Well, an attempted industry anyway. An industry that ignores its customers? Good luck with that.

I spoke in October at the IFC, which is a $60 cab ride from Amsterdam. For my presentation, I looked at and evaluated the websites of more than a dozen attendees, brand-name charities all. And ... yikes, shocking, ohmigod?!? Only ONE of these brand-name charities even bothers to mention the existence of, or need for, donors in its public mission statement.

That's the 21st-century equivalent of, "The world is flat. Trust me."

Fundraisers talk about "being donor-centric." Experts like Ken Burnett (first) and Adrian Sargeant (later) have rattled on about the need to be donor-centric for decades. Come-lately Penny Burk even went and trademarked the term, so she could own it, and you couldn't use it. (Please treat her accordingly.)

Problem is....

Everyone knows you're supposed to be donor-centric. But how in fact do you do the deed? What does donor-centricity really look like? What's the proper "messaging attitude" to take?

My answer: write "flattery baths."

Overwhelm the donor and prospect with praise. And, you know what? That flattery better be sincere as well as copious. Nonprofits are so full of themselves, I'm surprised more don't explode.

------

"Any other problems you see?"

My three peeves are these: (1) No one knows how to properly criticize creative work (minor problem). (2) The approval process, with rare exceptions, is designed to produce failure, not success (this is especially a problem with cases for capital campaigns). (3) Fundraisers do not fully control their own sales effort; they get second-guessed routinely by their bosses.

This last is the number one complaint I hear at workshops ... and it costs nonprofits a lot of lost revenue.

Chief fundraisers SHOULD control all fundraising communications dictatorially, WITHOUT needing approval from anyone else. The fundraiser should pick every thought, every word, and every punctuation. But that is rarely the case.
 
Copyright © 2005-2013, by Tom Ahern and Ahern Donor Communications, Ink. All rights reserved.
10 Johnson Road, Foster, RI 02825, Phone: 401-397-8104, Email: a2bmail@aol.com Twitter handle: thattomahern.