Tom Ahern

Ahern Donor Communications

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.