My not-so-blazingly epic career
I’m a professional copywriter.
And a former food columnist. And a one-time PR flack. And I compiled oral histories of up-from-poverty Great Depression boxers. And I was an employee communications specialist (puke). And the author of several small books of poetry and fiction, with a BA and MA in English from Brown and a certificate in advertising art from the RI School of Design night school. I earned an international credential in business communications, too.
Whatever turned a buck and had to do with words.
I like words.
These days, I make my living by writing cases and direct mail … by doing audits, reviewing and recommending fixes for donor communications … and by teaching others what I’ve learned during decades of trial, error and the occasional spectacular success.
I didn’t start in fundraising. I built my career in sales, of everything from lotteries to roof membranes to adult education to disability insurance to a zoo. It was hardcore. Results were all that mattered. It taught me to respect research. Know what you’re doing, don’t guess. I aim to have an “opinion-free” practice. I have 500 professional how-to and reference books in my office. And hundreds of top mentors contributed to what’s rattling around in my head.
I began working with nonprofits full-time about 15 years ago. I was surprised that basic skills I took for granted as a sales copywriter — like the deft use of emotional triggers to prompt action, for instance; or reverence for the customer — were often missing in the donor communications I saw. And I saw a lot. Hundreds, probably thousands, of items meant for donors … and built to fail.
My journey began.
I’ve authored four well-received books on donor communications, with two more in the pipeline. I wrote about creating a case for support because I’d once desperately needed such a book; and it didn’t exist. I wrote a book about donor newsletters because the Domain Group had taught me a reliable way to make donor newsletters fabulously profitable, and I wanted to share the information. If you suffer from insomnia, a set of training DVDs that teach the “Tom Ahern way of writing” went on sale in 2013.
Tom Ahern highlights:
- Tom Ahern’s creative work as a “message strategist” has won repeated major international awards against competitors from Boeing and Disney. We play to win … at every level.
- Tom Ahern speaks internationally, dozens of times a year. He is also a popular webinar trainer.
- Recent clients include the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford [case] … Connecticut Forest & Park Association [case] … University of Alaska [case] … Friends of the Mississippi River [direct mail] … Oxfam AU [training] … Orbis International [training] … the Anchorage Museum [case] … the Animal Rescue League of Boston [audit] … Harlem RBI [audit] … USA for UNHCR [audit] … the Gettysburg Foundation [case] … Sharp HealthCare Foundation [direct mail, since 2009] … University of Chicago [training in advance of a campaign] … Planned Parenthood of Southern New England [case] … Planned Parenthood of Minnesota [direct mail]
- Several of Tom’s direct mail packs have become models, because of extraordinary results. However, direct mail writing is an extreme sport. “I do it only for a handful of very lovable clients.”
- Tom Ahern specializes in researching and writing “donor-centered” cases. In such, the donor is the central hero, not the organization. Why? Because that’s the right approach in sales.
- Tom Ahern is Bloomerang’s official “communications coach.” His profitable communications advice is built into Bloomerang’s donor management software.
- Tom is on the advisory board for the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, founded by Dr.s Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang at Plymouth University in the UK.