About Tom


I’m Tom Ahern. That’s me in the photo. My fab artist and sister-in-law, Aimee Bott Joyaux, shot it in France against this gorgeous, ever-crumbling garage wall at the medieval-and-later house we co-own there.


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.