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Monday, January 22, 2018

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"Can I make it as a fundraising copywriter?" Ahern replies, "Dear Tina..."
Tom Ahern

August, 2017

"Can I succeed as a copywriter?" she asked. My opinion and some book recommendations follow...

I've admired Tina Cincotti's talents for a long time. That's her in the photo, grassing with her best pal, Penny.

Recently Tina emailed me, excited and doubtful, her hopes spinning like a pinwheel:

"Can I do it, do you think? I've worked successfully as a fundraising consultant for 10 years. But do you really, really, REALLY think I can make my living as a fundraising copywriter? Because that's the part I like the best!"

My answer to her, after looking through her impressive portfolio of direct mail, annual reports, case statements, newsletters:


You ARE a terrific writer. For example: this outbound renewal appeal envelope you created, with designer Wendy Brovold?

It's smart. It's fast. It's involving. It dramatizes the stakes. It's enviable (wish I'd thought of that!).

Most important (since, let's get practical, we're all in the FUNDRAISING business): it drew a strong response, pulling in a much-higher-than-averagegift, from a far-above-normal percentage of renewing donors.

So, what's not to like? Bravo!

YES! Of COURSE you can do fundraising copywriting ... at a high level.

In fact, the market eagerly awaits

In my keyhole view? The fundraising world NEEDS you ASAP.

Pretty much every competent (and not too shy to promote themselves) fundraising creator I know (writer, designer, agency) is OVER-booked and turning away good clients.

Look: in the end, as we both know, it's not magic nor your natural-born gifts that make you a success in this trade. It's training, experience, perseverance and opportunity. (A balance of guts and neuroses, maybe? I'm not a psychologist, but I can dress like one....)

So, yeah, come on in. The water's warm and welcoming.

Knowing when you're ready to become a writer

I own (and have sort-of read) 500+ how-to books.

Some of the most useful, though, are NOT from the nonprofit world.

My modest back story: In 1990, I opened with two partners a small marketing agency. Our clients were mostly commercial: yachts, roof membranes, adult ed, a Top 10 zoo, disability insurance, 401(k)s. We did direct response stuff. Advertising. Public relations. Sales. Employee communications. And we kept the lights on, repeatedly winning major awards for complex projects and great results. We beat out Boeing one year. We beat out Disney another time. We studied our trade.

Looking back now, I realize....

Some of my BEST fundraising dance-floor moves were learned from experts outside the charity world.

"Tina, if you can only afford 6 books...." Assembling a basic copywriter's tool box, including experts from OUTSIDE fundraising...

If I had just one urgent minute to throw an essential copywriter's library into a box, here are 6 books I'd consider....

1. I'd start maybe with Joseph Sugarman...

Why? Because, what is fundraising at its root? Sales, by another name.

Sugarman made a fortune selling goods via direct response advertising. There is serious money to be made in the commercial world. Own-your-own-jet money. Palatial-houses-in-multiple-locations money. Sugarmanin his prime I'm sure avoided the trauma of economy air travel.

If you wish to learn how to flat-out sell, devoid of niceties and romance, read this book.

2. Then move on to Murray...

Donald M. Murray (1924-2006) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for a major daily.

Murray's big contribution to my career is Writing to Deadline. In this ultra-pragmatic book, Murray, a journalist with deadlines as pitiless as the guillotine, lays out every trick he's learned of how to tell a fresh, captivating story. Pirates bury their treasure. Ethical and education-minded journalists like Mr. Murray tell you HOW to do what they did, to find fresh angles and satisfy enraptured audiences.

Sample entries from Mr. Murray's table of contents:
  • Asking the Reader's Five Questions
  • The Qualities of a Good Story
  • How to Write Without Writing
  • Tricks of the Writing Trade

3. Then Jerry Weissman, for case advice...

I found Jerry W. at a desperate moment in my career.

I was entangled in a half-billion-dollar fundraising campaign, a scale I'd never attempted. I needed to know what big-league success looked like.

Thank you, Amazon: you led me to Jerry.

He isn't from deep inside the nonprofit world. He isn't a hardcore direct-marketing guy. He's Hollywood. He was a screenwriter. That's his training: telling stories that sell tickets. Silicon Valley venture capitalists who take start-ups public recruited him to help improve their Wall Street pitches. Which he very lucratively did.

Jerry Weissman has likely never written a nonprofit case for support. Yet he is the best I know at figuring out how to complete that task ... demi-god-ish, at a level with Jerry Panas.

4. And Tina? Seek out synthesizers like Mal...

If I could take just ONE book to a desert island, I'd toss into my salt-stained backpack Mal Warwick's How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals.

Berkeley (CA)-based Mal Warwick is one of Mother Earth's most successful fundraisers, on a par with other pioneers like Jerry Huntsinger and Roger Craver. Mal's book became an industry classic the day it was published. And it's updated regularly.

Mal's a seminal synthesizer. He wanders up all sorts of strange but relevant alleys.

No other book I know can teach a greenhorn fundraiser essential nuts-and-bolts techniques better. It's one of the BEST, step-by-step how-to books I have ever encountered. And it now includes "best practices" for digital as well as print ... with critical research from evergreen experts like Munich's Dr. Siegfried Vögele.

5. For inspiring career advice, there's Seth...

Seth Godin is my #1 guru. His wisdom bobs through my presentations like channel markers: GO THIS WAY.

The admirable Mr. Godin's insights tend to be surprising, dead on, profound, life-changing and money-making. (Watch Amy Eisenstein's riveting video interview of Seth from the recent AFP international conference in Baltimore, where he keynoted.)

The subtitle of The Icarus Deception says it all: "How high will you fly?" He wants all professionals to think of themselves as artists. No argument here.

6. For understanding the water we all swim in...

This may be the most illuminating, big-picture book I've read in 10 years: The Attention Merchants, by Tim Wu.

Tim Wu is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Harvard has named him one of its 100 most influential graduates. The National Law Review has named him among America's 100 most influential lawyers. He's a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. Fun fact: he coined the term "net neutrality," as a specialist in that hotly debated issue.

The Attention Merchants never refers to nonprofits especially; they're not the focus. This book is about the rise and permutations of commercial mass media, from the birth of newspapers on: through radio, television, cable, the internet, social media, blogs and whatever comes next.

This is the world nonprofit communications have to survive and thrive in. See that world for what it is.

# # #


How donor-centricity (and wicked smarts) built a modest fundraising effort into a super-charged engine for growth

¶ What can three determined professionals, free to experiment, achieve for an addicted-and-homeless charity in Dublin? In 7 years, annual charity for Merchants Quay Ireland soared from €250,000 to €3 million. And that's just the bottom-line metric. Donor retention strengthened significantly. Response to the print newsletter popped more than 400%. Read this special report on how three Yanks -- fundraising chief, Denisa Casement; copywriter and relationship specialist, Lisa Sargent; and crack designer, Sandi Collette -- upped one charity's game ... just as the Irish financial crisis struck. Download the full PDF report.

For stealing? Enjoy this terrific "You can make a difference" video.

¶ The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation strikes just the right note in this sweet 2-minute video starring a caring community. Berkshire Taconic's focus on donor-centricity is consistently outstanding. Creative: Dawn Hathaway.

Is your charity really ready to succeed on #GivingTuesday?

¶ Every means of making money is a potential opportunity ... but can also exact an "opportunity cost." I.e., could you be doing better things with your time and money? Here are 10 bottom-line questions to ask yourself before you hitch your horses to the #GivingTuesday bandwagon. From Bloomerang, compiled by Bryan Roesler, recommended by the oh-so-solid Chad Barger, CFRE. Bryan is a Peace Corps business adviser serving in the Ukraine. He was previously an account executive at Bloomerang. Prior to that, he was Director of Development at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana and Assistant Director of Annual Giving at Wabash College.
As advertised: This is the best book I've ever read on what "big stick" donors really think
¶ I know Mo. He's a big thinker. He's a serious thinker. He's maybe the most moral person I've ever met. He consults with rich folk about where to lay their charity bets. A couple of years ago, Mo interviewed a raft of big-league philanthropists in Canada. He wanted to know how they thought, what were the triggers that informed their decisions to invest $1 million in this project and zero in that project. This book offers the single most uncluttered investigation I have ever encountered of how the do-gooder wealthy decide on their gifts. Written with Chuck English.

Tony Elischer Foundation launches "bespoke" mentorship program for rising fundraising stars

¶ Tony E. was bigger than life: an "inspiring," "transformative," "generous," "beloved" thinker who changed lives wherever he went. He changed mine, I can tell you. His death from cancer in 2016 left a gaping hole in international fundraising. His wife Nicky and the team at THINK Consulting, the firm he founded in 2001, are now continuing Tony's legacy by offering ambitious and talented young fundraisers in the UK and around the world one-on-one mentoring with top practitioners, with guidance tailored to your specific career needs. For details of the program and to apply, click here.

Take a 5-minute refresher in donor-centricity

¶ Sandy Rees, the consultant behind Get Fully Funded, offers a tip-filled article called "The Key to Grabbing and Keeping a Donor's Attention."

The winner (THANK YOU, ALL!)

¶ Almost 50 highly detailed, personal opinions came in, RE: the cover for my next book, asking TRUBALEEVAHs to choose from 3 possibilities.Carol recounted that she'd been bitten as a child by a puppy, so she couldn't conform with the mob. And in truth most people went with this "Aw, that's socute...!" cover design by Andrea Hopkins. "Corny sells," says Jeff Brooks.



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