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If you had more money ... you could do more good.
If you do better communications ... you will have more money.

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Cardboard hearts for the homeless   

This campaign from Arrel Fundaci� in Barcelona used multichannel marketing to raise funds and awareness: direct mail, events, online, advertising and a PR push with journalists. 

For your "working bookshelf"
Gorgeous new book reveals warts-and-all back stories of 30 extraordinary direct mail packages    

The book is called 30 Letters That Changed the World. It's a richly illustrated analysis of the rough-and-tumble (and countless details) that make rare direct mail campaigns catch fire and exceed expectations. Steve Thomas wrote the text, after more than 30 years in the business, as founder, with his wife, Mary Attfield, of Toronto's biggest, best, and most progressive direct mail firm. I bought my copy in Canada, from the author. And now it's one of the few books allowed permanently on my desk, for frequent reassurance and ideas. It's not on Amazon. It's not on a website. To order in the US, send $49 plus $12.66 postage to the following email address:




Answering the perennial question....
"I never know what to say."  

Seattle's Chris Davenport, creator of Movie Mondays for Development Directors and other useful education products, has just released an inexpensive booklet, Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members. Learn "the 4 building blocks of a powerful story," "the 7 story triggers that captivate listeners," etc. 

Special opportunity for Canadian charities...
March 2013: 4 experts in 4 cities 

Global Philanthropic will offer its second daylong Training Academy by world-ranked experts: Stephen Pidgeon (multi-channel direct marketing and donor stewardship; UK), Richard Radcliffe (planned giving and legacies; UK), Guy Mallabone (capital campaigns and major gifts; Canada), and Simone Joyaux (strategic planning, board and organizational development; US). In Halifax, March 18; in Montreal, March 19; in Ottawa, March 20; in Toronto, March 21.

Registration details here. 

Can you take the heat? Come into my kitchen...

Enter a gallery of frank critiques ... solely for your error-avoiding, idea-stealing pleasure

NEW this issue: I got nothin' this issue, and it's holding up the works. Next time.

How critiquing works: Brave people send me samples of their donor comms, for a free, nitty-gritty - and public - critique.
From the incoming pool of submissions, I choose some of the more illustrative of best (or bad) practices. I'm sorry I can't respond to everyone. PLEASE do not take it personally. It's not you. It's me. I was a one-man band. Now, with all the things I'm doing, I've become a one-man symphony orchestra. And I've had to cut back some of my favorite things. Right now, I have the time to critique about a quarter of the incoming items. If you're chosen, I'll post the critiqued materials on my website, as downloadable PDFs with pop-up comments the whole world can read (and I'll let you know it's happened). The fundraising world thanks you: these critiques are the most visited area on my website. 
International expertise at down-to-earth prices. Fund development, board development, strategic planning. Lots of free resources
Where will Tom speak next?

Check upcoming events on Tom's international speaking CALENDAR!

Stats as of Jan 2013....


Donor Comm Nation

Linked In: 500+ connections

Twitter: 555 followers

E-news: 6,256 subscribers

Facebook: 147 friends 

In global fashion news: SOFII launches sleek, new look..
Once a week, visit this free site
SOFII offers you, for zero, zip, & free, examples of SUCCESSFUL donor communications from around the world that you can steal ... ahem,
learn ... from. I learn a new trick every time I visit. Like the giving string that increased average gifts $20. Don't be a stranger
Learn an easy (but important) new skill for 2013..
Lower the grade level of your writing


Your readers will love you for it! (Though they'll never suspect what you've done.)



Once upon a time, in my workshops, I would ask an attendee to read aloud a long, academic passage from a book I provided.


The passage defined two literary terms: metonymy and synecdoche. They'd read what I'd handed them. "So," I'd then ask, "what grade level were those definitions written at? Were they written at the middle school, high school, or college level?" The consensus pegged the passage around the college level.


Reasonably enough. 


In fact, though -- using the standard Flesch-Kincaid scale built into Microsoft Word -- these highly technical, literary definitions scored at the 8th-grade level.


My point was this: you can write about anything, even arcane academic topics, at the 8th-grade level. And you should. I give you two commandments:


Write less.

Write lower.


Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal do not write down to their readers. They do, however, try to make their information fast and easy to absorb. On slow days, I will check a few paragraphs from a Wall Street Journal feature article, just to see. Most score in the 8th- to 10th-grade range.


That thriller you bought for your airplane flight? Many will score at the 4th-grade level. Why? Because the lower the grade level, the faster you can read stuff ... and that's what makes a "page-turner" turn.


The preceding passage, incidentally, scores at the 5th-grade level.


It's all about those ratios


The most common objection I hear, when I tell people they should write at the 8th-grade level, is this: "All my readers are college educated. They don't need the material dumbed down."


People often misunderstand the grade-level issue.


It's not a question of "dumbing down." It's a question of speeding up.


Readers want to get through your stuff as fast as possible. They have busy lives. Write much above the 8th-grade level, and you'll slow them down. Ease of comprehension and grade level are directly linked. Raise your grade level and ease of comprehension slows. Lower your grade level and ease of comprehension speeds up.


It doesn't matter what vocabulary you use, by the way. Really. Feel free to use scientific terms, medical terms, economic terms, whatever suits you. What does matter in your writing will be the ratios: the ratio of short words to long, the ratio of short sentences to long, the ratio of short paragraphs to long. You want to strongly favor the short over the long whenever possible. The higher your ratio of short to long, the lower your grade level.


And is a dangerous word in this context. People will often take two perfectly fine short sentences and join them with an and, making a longer, gangly, harder to absorb sentence. Don't use and without good reason.


The preceding passage scores at the 6th-grade level.


How to score your grade level


There are free online grade-level checkers. You simply cut-and-paste a passage of your prose into the checker and hit a button. Voil�.


If you work in Microsoft Word, you own a built-in grammar checker. The Word grammar checker allows you to score the grade level of your prose in a matter of seconds.


When I'm writing for a client, I score my grade level of my prose obsessively, sometimes every few minutes. I consider it unacceptable to turn in text written much above the 8th-grade level. People hire me to please their readers. Low grade levels make for pleasant reading.


In my version of Word, the grammar checker is found in the Tools menu, under Spelling and Grammar. If this feature isn't working in your Word, go to your Preferences and make sure you've selected both "Check grammar with spelling" and "Show readability statistics."


The preceding passage scores at the 7th-grade level.


Excerpted from Tom Ahern's forthcoming new book on donor newsletters, from Emerson & Church. 

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How to write a case for support. Read the Kool-Aid.
How to Write
How to write fundraising materials your donors will love.