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Sunday, January 21, 2018

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The new donor-centric you, courtesy of Dale Carnegie
Tom Ahern

December, 2008

The following statement is the only advice you'll ever need to build a successful brand among your donors. And it's from an author who published his best-seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in 1936 in the depths of the Great Depression.

"You'll have more fun and success," Dale Carnegie said, " when you STOP trying to get what you want, and START helping others get what they want."

Enlightened self-interest: Be useful to others, and they will amply reward you.

So how can you be useful to donors? Again, Dale Carnegie provides the insight.

"[There] is one longing almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep which is seldom gratified," he insisted. "It is what Freud calls 'the desire to be great.' It is what [philosopher John] Dewey calls the 'desire to be important.' Here is a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger; and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this heart-hunger will hold people in the palm of his hand."

That's what your fundraising communications are really for: to satisfy this heart-hunger -- the typical person's desire to be great.

Organizations assume that fundraising communications are about raising money. Not in my view. I firmly believe that donor communications are about convincing the donor that her participation will make a difference to someone, somewhere.

Do that well, and you will raise more money. Your donor retention will improve. People will give more frequently. You'll attract more bequests and other planned gifts.

Just steer by these two verbs: STOP and START.

STOP desperately trying to get what you want: a check, a monthly contribution online, a renewed membership, a charitable bequest. Those are merely by-products of an effective, donor-centered, donor-focused, donor-celebrating communications program.

START creating such a program. START helping your donors experience, feel, understand, adore, and believe in the changes that will happen as a result of their gifts. Report your accomplishments. Give the credit for those accomplishments to your donors. Make them feel supremely important.

Donors are beautiful. Their inner-most thoughts are gorgeous: "I hope to change the world. Relieve pain. Add something worthwhile to this spinning planet. Or to my community. I want to change lives. Help a stranger. Make a difference. Be good. Be worthwhile. Yes, I know there are 305 million residents in the United States alone. But, even so, I can, as an individual, make a difference right now. If I care enough. And if I can find the right charity."

Are you the right charity?

That depends on how you view donors.

View them as superheroes, and they'll reward you.

View them as ATM machines -- as interchangeable sources of ready cash -- and their "loyalty" will be fleeting.

And since I've introduced the word, let me add that "donor loyalty" is one of the dumber, more misleading, more self-indulgent terms in the our industry's lexicon.

Why should donors be loyal to charities? STOP expecting that. START being loyal to your donors and their heartfelt aspirations instead. Then you will enter Dale Carnegie's promised land.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America’s top authorities on nonprofit and donor communications. His "Love Thy Reader" workshops win rave reviews at fundraising conferences across the U.S. and Canada.Tom's workshops have trained thousands of nonprofit staff and board in the revenue-building secrets of psychology, marketing, writing, and graphic design.

In 2005 he joined other world-class experts as a faculty member for the IFC's weeklong conference in the Netherlands, attended by fundraisers from 80 countries.He is the author of The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible, released in October 2005 by Emerson & Church. A second book titled How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money. John Wiley & Sons, the premier publisher of books for the nonprofit industry, in January 2006 contracted with Tom (and his wife, consultant Simone Joyaux) to produce a new book with the working title, Nonprofit Fundraising Communications: A Practical and Profitable Approach. Tom is also an award-winning magazine journalist, for articles on health, women's rights and other social justice issues. Visit


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