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June 25, 2022
Nonprofits Need to Make Their Case to Motivate Donors
Book Doubters into Donors

Nonprofits experiencing financial stress due to the coronavirus pandemic that think donors will naturally understand their need for additional support should think again, and before doing anything else read and take to heart the advice presented in Turning Doubters into Donors.

Raising funds—no matter when, crisis or not—is all about making a compelling case that persuades donors to open their wallets, which means all appeals must focus on the donor.

Assuming that donors understand the role they can play to help solve the problem your organization addresses can be a fatal mistake.

Author Tom Ahern, an internationally acclaimed mentor to nonprofit fundraisers, writes in this, his seventh book, “It’s the donor’s story, not yours.” Indeed, this is his essential message, whether reaching out to existing donors or seeking to enlist new ones, who may have doubts about supporting your organization.

Donors should be treated as the solution to a problem. By making a gift, donors “hope to purchase a role in your organization’s story [and] if you do not reinforce that hoped-for role in the organization’s story, ‘your’ donors will find other charities to love. Guaranteed.”

Everything nonprofits do needs to be informed by and reflect a carefully, well-crafted case statement, according to Ahern. And that holds for all types of fundraising – for capital campaigns as well as annual giving programs, and when seeking corporate and foundation support, crafting your annual report, or making an appeal on your website.

Want to enlist donors to your cause? Invite them to a good fight. Writes Ahern: “Many gifts originate with a desire to mix it up, to get into a fight that we think matters, and to win.” The challenge is to properly articulate the essential story, e.g., an animal welfare organization can lose support by focusing on “save the cute animals” when the fuller story is about human cruelty to animals.

Writing a case to motivate giving embraces four elements, Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, which Ahern refers to as AIDA, as follows:

  • Hijack my attention. (“Hey!”)
  • Hook my interest. (Tell me something surprising or which I care about.)
  • Build desire. (Make me want it.)
  • Invite me to act. (Give me a worthwhile job to do.)

Ahern makes it sound simple. True, the concept is straightforward and easy to understand. But putting it into practice takes work. Lots of work.

The place to start, he advises, is by becoming your organization’s “designated ignoramus,” meaning pretend you know nothing about your organization and ask yourself basic, skeptical questions that outsiders typically have. They include: What is the urgent problem that your appeal seeks to address? Why now? Why should I, the potential donor, care?

As he does in all his excellent books, Ahern riddles the text with real-world examples—case statements, brochures, website pages, photos—illustrating problems nonprofits typically encounter and solutions they employed to successfully address them. A detailed outline on how to write a case in a week (demanding, but doable) alone makes the book a worthy read.

Turning Doubters into Donors is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
September 2020

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