Your prospect has four sets of ears: Are you speaking to them?

This month we are featuring Tom Ahern’s recent book, How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money (Emerson & Church, 2011).

Despite our lack of Tom Ahern’s vast communications credentials, we find ourselves fully entrenched in writing tasks. No matter how you communicate, whether you are a social media fan or a champion of direct mail, your understanding of effective donor communications will be essential to nonprofit success.

While it’s widely accepted that no two readers are alike, we continue writing to them as if they are. Your donors are not target markets or segments; they are people with different motivations for giving to your nonprofit. No matter how well-intentioned your messages are, the reality is that you are still an intrusion. So we must raise the bar in writing donor-centric messages to inspire action.

Donors have special interests, and here’s a short list of what they care deeply about, according to Ahern: your accomplishments (What did you do with my money?), your vision (If I choose to give you more money, what amazing things could you do with it?), recognition (Are donors like me vital to your work?), and your efficiency (Can I trust you with my money?). Of these four interests, the most important will be your accomplishments. In other words, your donors want to back a winner. One caveat: leave room for improvement and link the accomplishments with need.

Donor-OPTIONAL language is: “We did this. We did that. We were amazing. Oh, by the way, thanks.” Donor-CENTRIC language is: “With your help, all these amazing things happened. And without your help, they wouldn’t have.” Further donor-centric language means you are appealing to all four sets of the prospect’s ears.

  1. One set is the AMIABLE side that responds to people and seeks community, sharing emotions and responding to one another. Ahern encourages you to “glow with humanity and heart and attract the amiable side of your audience.”
  2. Another set is the EXPRESSIVE side that responds to anything new and says, “Tell me something I don’t know!” They burn for the new. They crave the new. They are addicted to the new, the urgent, the different, the unique and the only. “Radiate news value and urgency,” says the author.
  3. The third set is the SKEPTICAL side and is wary from the start or cautious by nature. The courts say, “innocent until proven guilty,” but the skeptical ear says the opposite. Ahern tells us to “anticipate and answer the predictable objections … and allay the doubts that eat at the skeptical side of your audience.”
  4. Your final set of ears only wants to know what to do next. These BOTTOM-LINERS want us to make it obvious, make it convenient, and go, go, go. “Never forget to tell people exactly what you wish they’d do next … so the bottom-liner side of your audience can easily respond to your appeals,” says Tom.

A portion of this blog post was excerpted from a Page to Practice book summary at For more information about Tom Ahern’s book and more expert advice, visit

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