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June 25, 2022
Nonprofit Fundraising Success Flows from a Keen Focus on Donors
Book - If Only You'd Known
Amid an ever-shifting funding landscape what remains constant for nonprofits is the quest for income, which means they need to continually sharpen their game ”“ and why they should read If Only You'd Known...You Would Have Raised So Much More.

Most importantly, nonprofit fundraisers owe it to themselves and their organizations to tap into a vast body of research to help them maintain a laser focus on donors.

Author Tom Ahern, one of the gurus of modern nonprofit fundraising, makes the case in this highly readable volume, in which each chapter is preceded by a question with multiple possible answers. For example:
  1. How old is the typical US donor? 35 years of age; 50 years of age; 75 years of age.

  2. Do humans react negatively to false flattery? No; Yes.

  3. Are fundraising events important to a charity's success? Yes; No; Maybe.

  4. How often can you ask in a year without driving off donors? Once; Three times; A dozen times; 21 times
When you're a fundraiser, you're in sales, Ahern posits. And your customer is the donor who hopes to buy something important, be it purpose ("I did a good thing"), a sense of self ("I was brought up to be helpful"), emotional gratification ("Giving feels good"), or the achievement of other psychic goals.

Implicit in his message is that nonprofit fundraisers—most often, in-house staffers who are not professionally trained—frequently fall short of their goals because they don't build on the knowledge that the pros have. (Case in point: The answers to the above questions are (1) 75; (2) No; (3) No; (4) 21.)

Even when nonprofits tap into extensive fundraising research and experience, Ahern asserts "there IS no easy fundraising." And this is a key—and perhaps the key—takeaway of the book.

Fundraising is an ongoing commitment, which requires board support and organizational investment and follow-through. What works for one organization may not work for yours, but you'll only know for sure by testing different approaches.

It means being able to educate (stand up to?) executive directors and board chairs "who've never had to raise a penny through direct mail [who] blithely pass judgement on direct mail." (Not only is direct mail not dead, killed off by the Internet, Ahern writes, but "could be considered superior to other marketing channels..." and drives a lot of online giving.)

Maintaining an ongoing, aggressive fundraising function is essential to the success of virtually all charities because, as Ahern notes, in the U.S., 70% to 80% of first-time donors will not give a second donation: "While acquiring new donors is vitally important to refresh and grow your base, your skill at retaining those new donors is where the real money hides."

Achieving that success means always focusing on the donor. To repeat, it's about donors ("With your help, all these amazing programs happen.") and not about you ("We do this amazing program.")

Donors' attention spans lasts only a few seconds. Your job is to take advantage of that opportunity with messages with meaning to them, Ahern writes. They need and want to hear from you quickly (first-time donors should be thanked within 48 hours of receipt of their gift), and they want to know that their gift made a difference.

Yes, nonprofit fundraising is an investment, and investing in this book, and then heeding its advice, will pay off.

If Only You'd Known...You Would Have Raised So Much More is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

March 2019
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