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Show a Little Donor - Love in Your Case for Support

Resource Center - Foundation

Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on donor communications and is the author of four well-received books on the topic. Through all of his experiences he has come to one main conclusion: It’s all about being donor-centric in your case for support!

Ahern will walk you through how to construct a donor-centric case for support during his AFP webinar on Feb. 5 and during his educational sessions at the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising.

Each year, Ahern delivers dozens of workshops internationally, specializing in applying the discoveries of psychology and neuroscience to the everyday business of inspiring and retaining donors. Nearly a decade ago, Ahern discovered that a great case for support has to show a little donor-love. It’s his top go-to donor communication technique.

“Most old-style cases talk about the organization’s mission and how wonderful the programs are, but they rarely even mention donors”, says Ahern. He finds this quite odd, especially if you’re asking someone for a capital campaign without even mentioning the donor. “My technique is to make the case much more donor-centric.” Ahern asserts that switching from an organization-centric case to a donor-centric case raises much more money.

During his webinar on Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Eastern, Writing a Fabulous Case for Donor Support, Ahern will share his secrets for properly selling your projects, programs, endowments, initiatives, buildings, renovations and bright ideas. Of course, most of these secrets stem from a donor-centric technique. However, you won’t just learn what you can do to create a successful case; you’ll also learn what not to do.

Among techniques that are unsuccessful is the elevator speech. “An elevator speech is an idea that works for commercial sales, but it will likely never catch on or be successful in fundraising”, says Ahern. He finds that there is no passion in an elevator pitch. The thinking that 50 words to summarize your organization will appeal to a donor is, as Ahern puts it, “delusional.”

What Ahern does suggest as a technique is a conversation starter that’s open-ended with a place for the donor to find themselves fitting in. As a fundraiser, you don’t want to continuously talk about the organization you’re representing in order to convince the donor to give. Find out about the donor’s passions and intentions, and find a way to relate your organization’s mission to the donor’s. Do a little match-making with your donor-love. “Questions open the door for the donor and lets them talk, which creates a relationship between the donor and the organization they’re giving to”, suggests Ahern.  

During his webinar, Ahern will also be addressing the “big three” questions that you’ll face with your donors:

1.)  Why us? What is our group doing that is so extraordinary?

2.)  Why now? “The thing that makes your solicitation stand out is the urgency of doing something about the problem now”, says Ahern.

3.)  Why would an individual, the individual associated with the organization, why would THEY give?

“Possibly the hardest question for charities to answer is the third one; this is where the issue of donor-centricity comes in”, explains Ahern. It’s important for an organization to find that connection with the individual donor. Alumni give because of their loyalty and compassion for their former school. Find a reason for your donor to lend their loyalty and compassion to your organization.

Ahern is currently doing work through the University of Oregon and proposing that they start with a survey, not a case statement. “Find out more about your donor as an individual and not just about their money”, he suggests. Ahern realized that of the charities he’s aware of, none of them know their donors really well. Therefore, they can only do generic fundraising and are not able to tailor to their individual donors.

Following the lead of fellow AFP International conference speaker Adrian Sargeant, Ahern says you have to survey your donors often to find out details about them. “It’s not just a fad, this is fundamental to marketing to your individual donors.”

In case you’re not able to catch Ahern during his webinar on Feb. 5, be sure to attend one of his two educational sessions on Monday of the AFP International conference, from 8:00 – 9:15 a.m., or 1:15 – 2:30 p.m. He’ll be presenting twice on: The Case Statement: Getting Your Story Right.

Despite the different titles, Ahern ensures that he will be addressing the same concept of building a donor-centric case. Ahern emphasizes that his presentations are very “alive”—ever-changing, ever-evolving, and adapting to the new idiosyncrasies he learns daily by being in the field. “I use these techniques myself every day, so I’m always adding and enhancing accordingly”, says Ahern.

As a veteran AFP conference speaker – he’s presented more than ten times! – Ahern assures that his sessions are never the same from year-to-year, despite the basis of the session remaining the same. “Because of my experience with clients throughout the year, my case is always evolving”, says Ahern. He is always exploring the topic of how to tell your story to your client. “I read books on story-telling to grab techniques from them to pass along.”

Ahern feels as though his job as a trainer is to make things simple so the audience can learn the outline in one session. “I will hear from attendees a year later that the technique they learned in my session works. These aren’t 20-year writing veterans, but they adapted the donor-centric technique as well as they could, and they benefited from it”, he says.

Whether you attend Ahern’s webinar on Feb. 5, or one of his conference sessions in San Diego on April 8, you will be equipped with the donor-centric technique that one of the most experienced case writers uses himself. After that, it’s up to you to execute.



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