Books for Nonprofit Staff & Volunteers

Turning Doubters Into Donors

Turning Doubters Into Donors

Tom Ahern

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Turning Doubters Into Donors
How to Make a Compelling Case for Your Cause

by Tom Ahern, 189 pp

The central aim of Turning Doubters into Donors, Tom Ahern’s newest convention-breaking book, is to explore the mind of the typical donor and why exactly some people finally say: “YES! I will give….”

Among the most respected fundraising writers in the world, Ahern exposes the money-losing presumptions of bosses and boards. He debunks common (but wrong) notions like, "If we show people how great our programs are, they're sure to give us money."

He demonstrates how a cultural shift toward "donor love" inside your organization raises far more money immediately. Even a simple change — such as treating your donors as heroes — can double your income.

Ahern also takes you through the science of why emotions matter so much. You’ll discover, for instance, why neuroscientists recommend making your fundraising appeals to the heart first ... and why appealing to reason can actually suppress giving.

He openly shares with you his best "secrets for fundraising success" ... secrets learned from top experts around the world.

Whether you're writing your next appeal, redoing your website, preparing your next annual report ... or about to launch your next (maybe your first!) capital campaign ... you need a persuasive, open and shut case.

This book shows you how ... in fast, practical chapters written in Tom Ahern's signature entertaining style.

About the Author

Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on how to make donor communications more profitable. He is author of If Only You'd Known, You Would Have Raised So Much More, What Your Donors Want and WhySeeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money, and Making Money with Donor Newsletters, all published by Emerson & Church. He collaborated with Adrian Sargeant and psychologist Jen Shang on prototyping innovative direct mail packages for PBS TV. As a “message strategist” he’s won three prestigious IABC Gold Quill awards, all for nonprofit communications campaigns that achieved unusual success.

Table of Contents

My adoring tribute to Jerry Panas (1928–2018)

Section one

Preparing for your case: Getting your people on the same page

  1. Mission, vision, case statements: How they differ
  2. Do you really need a case for support . . . if you're not in a capital campaign?
  3. You are not your target market
  4. A handful of fundraising realities to keep in mind
  5. The typical donor
  6. Using your case in an appeal
  7. Your case when thanking
  8. Your case in donor newsletters
  9. Making a case in your annual report
  10. Exhibit: The Redwood Gratitude Report, created by Agents of Good
  11. Exhibit: Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report, created by Agents of Good
  12. Your case online

Section two

Polishing your case: The art and science of persuasion

  1. Experts talk cases
  2. Goldfish pay more attention (but they can't make gifts)
  3. Obeying Dan Hill: The first few seconds matter most
  4. Did you (and your boss) hear the news about emotions?
  5. For example: "Rage philanthropy"
  6. Identity-based fundraising: The "Is this me?" test
  7. Raising hope: Features vs. benefits
  8. Little things: How to pick a cover photo for your case brochure
  9. Bigger
  10. Offer your donors an enemy to defeat
  11. Donor centricity: Igniting desire
  12. The call to action (CTA)
  13. AIDA: Writing a case in four easy steps
  14. What should we call our campaign?
  15. Relax: A less-than-great case won't kill your campaign

Section three

Making your case: Avoiding the dreaded "Curse of Knowledge"

  1. Embracing "Designated Ignoramus" status
  2. Ron Arena simplifies cases for me (and now you): Answering his "Three Big Questions"
  3. Anticipating harder-nosed questions
  4. "What if we disappeared tonight?"
  5. Going from Point A to Point B: A basic case
  6. Brainstorming a "pre-approved" case
  7. There are several kinds of cases. Each is a specific tool, doing a specific job.
  8. Internal case for support
  9. NON-capital case for support
  10. Feasibility case for support
  11. Public (mass market) case for support
  12. When it all goes wrong (as it will from time to time)
  13. Your full-dress case: Estimated word count?
  14. Analyzing an actual feasibility case
  15. Analyzing an actual public case brochure
  16. Advice of surpassing excellence . . . from the master, Jerry Panas
  17. Advice for the forlorn: When your cause lacks kittens or kids

Section four

My personal process, as it's evolved

  1. The process: how to write a case in one week's time
  2. Day 1: Gather background
  3. Also on day 1: Decide about interviews
  4. Day 2: Conduct interviews (intelligently)
  5. Sample interview questions for insiders: Leah's list
  6. Drilling deeper
  7. Day 3: You have a haystack. Now for finding those needles . . .
  8. Day 4: Create your internal case
  9. Exhibit: A real-life internal case for a cancer center
  10. Day 5: Write a "brief" first?

Excerpt

This article is excerpted from Tom Ahern's book, Turning Doubters Into Donors, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email us.


The first few seconds matter most

According to Dan Hill in his book Emotionomics, "We have gut reactions in 3 seconds or less." Dan's a scientist.

I interpret his comment to mean that my donor prospects will be either ON my side or NOT on my side almost instantly. They will lean toward saying YES to a gift—or lean away from saying YES to a gift—within seconds.     

Since I encountered Dan Hill's research, I've based all my donor communications work on it. I can report that I consistently achieve good-to-great fundraising results—not because I have special talents (there are no magic wands); but because I obey and act on Dan Hill's discovery.

Barriers and invitations

Fundraising is serious business. It's about mission and the money needed to sustain and enlarge that mission. Thanks to Dan Hill's "3-second rule," I've adopted the following simple guideline:

Every start—your first words, your first image—is either a barrier or an invitation.

Generalities are a barrier. Jargon is always a barrier.

Personal warmth is always an invitation. Specifics—real things I can easily imagine: a red bird seizing a passing mosquito to feed its chicks—are an invitation.

"We" is often a barrier. "You" is an invitation. "Because of you" (acronym: "BOY," introduced by fundraising legend Jerry Panas) is always an invitation.     

This is a BARRIER:

The Civic Leadership Fund: To create a stronger, more vibrant community all voices must be heard, all of us must collaborate to solve important issues and seize emerging opportunities, and decision-making has to be backed by quality data. This is civic leadership.

This is an INVITATION:    

Are you worried about the future of [insert target's locality]?

Maybe you want to raise your kids here . . . but aren't convinced our public schools are ready to guarantee a good education for all?

Maybe you worry that our rapidly aging population is about to overwhelm health care here?

Maybe you wonder if local politics are really as short-sighted and corruptible as critics say?

Then you're exactly the kind of person the Civic Leadership Fund needs.

Because of you . . .