What changed in a decade? Me. Stuff. Everything. Not so much.

Writing this new book got me thinking…

It started out as a second edition.

Three years ago, my primary publisher, Emerson & Church, began nudging me for a second edition of How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money.

It’s been my personal “best seller,” with almost 12,000 copies sold since 2007. In case you’re wondering, that’s actually pretty good for a how-to book in the fundraising field. It sure helped with the payments on a Honda hybrid. Of course, by comparison?

Well: also released in 2007, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The 7th and final volume in that magnificent series sold 11 million copies in its first 24 hours, making creator J.K. Rowling the world’s first author banking over a billion in sales … not bad for a former researcher at Amnesty International. (See? There is life after nonprofits.)

But then….

That 2nd edition didn’t turn out the way we’d expected.

The “4 personality types” featured in my first edition?

You had your Expressive (“OMG!”), your Amiable (“Show me the love”), your Analytical (“Convince me and convince me and convince me some more”) and your impatient Bottom-Liner (“Show me results, dammit!”).

Gone. Those avatars came to me via old-school sales training. I’ve replaced them in my new book with discoveries in neuroscience.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Those “4 personality types” remain useful to copywriters. They helped me for years, and I still say hi to them.

But they were primitive guesses, comparatively. We now know a lot more about persuasion, thanks to MRIs and other research efforts.

What a difference 10 years makes

As I began revising How to Write, I was astonished (and delighted) by how far my own understanding of donor communications had advanced since 2007, thanks to countless mentors.

Progress, ho! Humility, ho!

Lots of what I can confidently write and talk to you about today would have utterly stumped me in 2007: I didn’t yet have the training, experience or skills.

Since then I’ve completed hundreds of challenging communications projects; attended dozens of transformative workshops and webinars annually; and read added millions of counseling words from experts who could speak with authority.

There is SO much more to talk with you about now.

The brain may not have actually evolved much in the last 30 years.

But in other ways, changes in communications have happened at a bewildering clip; and the brain, being neuroplastic, is changing with them.

For instance, social media has become a major, often addictive, presence in our daily lives.

But remember: Facebook only went worldwide in 2005. And no one successfully exploited its potential to raise money until quite recently. (To my knowledge, the Pareto agency in Australia and its client, Soi Dog, an animal welfare charity based in Bangkok, get the credit.)

Smart phones — mobile devices, with connections to the Internet, high-resolution cameras, directories, directions, countless apps, games, messaging — are now a HUGE convenience in daily life, almost a compulsion for many.

Yet iPhones arrived in stores only on June 29, 2007, after the first edition of this book went on sale. And even in 2017, many of charity websites I audit, for small and large organizations, are still not “mobile-friendly.” (A bit of a tsk-tsk on that issue.)

Another change: email, lowly email, can now raise hundreds of millions in contributions for political campaigns … notably for Barack Obama in his two presidential campaigns.

“We willingly make lots of mistakes [i.e., we test],” asserted his campaign staff, “and then we rake it in.” Pin that candid statement next to your computer, by the way. Or this synopsis: First make mistakes. Then make money.

Most importantly, most promisingly, most sweepingly … charities large and small have tried their hand at creating truly “donor-centered” communications for the first time.

They’ve begun treating the donor, not the organization itself, as the hero and the focus, a change adopted by commercial marketers in the 1950s, yet only now being adopted by fundraisers widely (thank you, Ken Burnett, Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang, Penelope Burk, Agents of Good, Bluefrog, Sean Triner, Damian O’Broin, Lisa Sargent, Leah Eustace, Sheena Greer…well, it’s enough to say that 10 years ago my personal list of donor-centrists could be counted on one hand and now it circles the earth).

Those that have applied donor-centricity well, without restraint or interference from their bosses, are sometimes reporting extraordinary improvements in revenue.

Does my new book have a title?

Long story short, the book I’ve written, that Emerson & Church will publish later this year, will not be a 2nd edition of How to Write. It will be new and different.

And the title?


For about 10 seconds, it was called How to Write Like Tom Ahern. Because that’s what it was, essentially: everything that rattles around inside my head as I eke out direct mail and capital campaign cases.

But the title that seems to be sticking is this: What Do Donors Read?…and Why! The Ultimate Guide to Fundraising Communications.

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