Interview with Tom Ahern

President at Ahern Communications; Fundraising copywriting and donor communications expert

Create compelling content that connects with donors and analyze based on lifetime value

Tom Ahern is a highly sought-after fundraising copywriting and donor communications expert. In 2016, the New York Times wrote that Tom Ahern “is one of the country’s most sought-after creators of fund-raising messages.” Tom Ahern is also the author of eight fundraising books including ‘Turning doubters into donors’, ‘What your donors want… and why’ and ‘How to write fundraising materials that raise more money.’

Interview with Tom Ahern

President at Ahern Communications; Fundraising copywriting and donor communications expert

Create compelling content that connects with donors and analyze based on lifetime value

Tom Ahern is a highly sought-after fundraising copywriting and donor communications expert. In 2016, the New York Times wrote that Tom Ahern “is one of the country’s most sought-after creators of fund-raising messages.” Tom Ahern is also the author of eight fundraising books including ‘Turning doubters into donors’, ‘What your donors want… and why’ and ‘How to write fundraising materials that raise more money.’

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Summary of interview with Tom Ahern

Interview running time: 48 minutes

Sales copywriting vs fundraising copywriting

Tom Ahern comes from a sales copywriting background where he built an established career. After being fired from his job at the time, Tom Ahern spent a year learning how he could bring his copywriting skills to help nonprofits make a bigger impact. This would be the beginning of his fundraising copywriting and donor communications career.

The difference between creating impactful sales copy vs creating impactful fundraising copy isn’t all that different. But Tom Ahern explains some keys differences involved to help have a bigger impact when creating content for fundraising appeals.

In this section, Tom Ahern reflects on his early lessons learnt on direct mail best practices and how that ultimately led him to being more successful today.

Tips for improving your direct mail fundraising content

Tom Ahern is a highly sought after fundraising trainer and he shares insight as to where fundraising teams commonly need help the most.

“What I don’t want is for someone who has no training to be judging the work that required 30 years of training and is meant to be fail safe and is meant to have as many problems as possible figured out in advance.” Tom Ahern

Tom Ahern has worked with many fundraising teams and understands the struggles and frustrations of executing direct mail fundraising content which involves direct mail best practices.

Through this interview you’ll find out Tom Ahern’s top tips for fundraisers on how to improve with their direct mail pieces and what common mistakes to avoid.

“The most common mistake I see made is that they open the letter with ‘Dear … ‘ and then they’ll give you five paragraphs as the opening salvo. That won’t work because you can’t skim it.” Tom Ahern on common mistakes made with direct mail. 

Building stronger relationships with donors

Tom Ahern explains that fundraisers and nonprofits are analysing fundraising performance with incorrect metrics. Fundraising should be measured by the Lifetime Value (LTV) of the donor, not by the first donation they make or the donation they make in relation to the appeal that is being analysed. Tom explains why it’s important to analyse performance based on the LTV of the donor.

Another area Tom Ahern puts a lot of emphasis on is making decisions based on research, which includes understanding the psychology and neuroscience behind loyal donors.

“It got worse with fundraising because the nonprofit world is full of people with power in positions with no training when it comes to donor communications. The research is there as a barrier to them.” Tom Ahern on the importance of using research and continual learning.

Tom Ahern shares his thoughts on how to better plan and create stronger donor retention strategies as well as which channels to use.

Utilising digital channels for fundraising

Tom Ahern answers questions related to what the role of digital is in a donor-centred fundraising strategy. Including:

• How should digital be best utilised during Covid-19
• How should social media be used to better engage supporters and donors
• What are some ways the layout of the website can be better displayed to maximise conversations and raise more funds
• How should direct mail content be adapted for email marketing to have better success

“One message that is often missed by charities (on their website) is that I didn’t know that they were a charity.” Tom Ahern on website messaging

Bequest marketing and mid-level giving

Tom Ahern emphasises the importance of sending bequest marketing pieces to regular donors at least once per year. This is often an area of fundraising overlooked by nonprofits and a crucial area to the organisation’s bottom line.

With that, fundraising teams should be putting a focus on their mid-level giving campaigns. Tom Ahern shares his advice on how to best set this up and to begin planning for a powerful mid-level giving program.

Reflecting on fundraising career

After a long and successful fundraising career, Tom Ahern reflects on his most satisfying moments when assisting fundraising teams and nonprofits.

Tom Ahern also shares insight into the next phase of his career and what work is in the pipeline.

And in summary, Tom shares his final advice to inspire and fulfil fundraisers to make a positive impact and create change for a better world.

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