At this latest fundraising conference, I at last began to wonder . . . 
”What is abuse?”

Tom Ahern

verb: (1) misuse (2) treat a person or an animal with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly; synonyms: misemploy, mistreat, maltreat, molest; antonym: nurture

noun: cruel and violent treatment of a person or animal; synonyms: mistreatment, maltreatment, interference; antonyms: care, nurturing


What is abuse? – A Warning

Many people who are being abused do not see themselves as victims.

Also, abusers do not see themselves as being abusive.

People often think of domestic [workplace] violence as physical violence, such as hitting. However, domestic [workplace] violence takes other forms, such as psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Domestic [workplace] violence is about one person in a relationship using a pattern of behaviors to control the other person.

[The website offers eight examples, including: “{Your boss or board chair} puts you down or makes you feel bad.”]

[If any of these examples rings a loud bell in your work/life, this abuse .org wants you to realize right now: “YOU HAVE BEEN ABUSED!!!”]


It happened again last week. It happens at pretty much every workshop I give.

I’ll call her Jennifer. She’s an eager fundraiser, anxious to succeed.

Jennifer attended a day of training.

She endured seven hours of presentations and activities. The lunch was decent. There was plenty of coffee and soft drinks.

Her sincere hope for that particular day?

To raise more money for her worthy cause

Jennifer gave away seven hours she’ll never see again to satisfy a personal hunger for better results.

She hoped that a day’s worth of advice from established experts, advice based on solid research and proof, would make a difference to her performance.

And she was absolutely right to take that risk!

Why it’s good for your .org when you train

As research (released in 2016 by Amy Eisenstein at BloomCon) showed, attending a day-long event like this … and executing the advice you’ve heard … can typically add as much as $40,000 to a charity’s fundraising haul over the next 12 months … and that’s just a start.

Wow. Not a bad return on investment, right?

Her .org invests $99 for Jennifer’s seat at a day-long conference. And as a result stands to make an added $40,000 in the next 12 months … and that’s just a start.

Let me say that again. Every single buck a charity spends on educating its fundraisers yields $400 downstream in additional donated revenue. The ROI for high-quality training? $1 = $400.


But there is a crucial plot twist: Jennifer must be able to return to her office after this day’s training and then adequately execute the advice she’s learned.

She doesn’t have to execute brilliantly, by the way (though a surprisingly large number of fundraisers do).

Jennifer only has to execute adequately, to see improved results; to rake in that extra $40,000.

What could go wrong?


Jennifer sat in the front row.

It’s a cliché: people who self-identify as “A” students gravitate to the front row. That’s where the ambitious like to sit. Full confession: that’s where I like to sit, taking copious notes.

Jennifer took copious notes.

She’s probably under 30. We chatted, as one does with those in the front row. Her fundraising job is a good work/life fit for her. She’s a married mom. Her husband, she smiled, “is my biggest cheerleader.”

And as the sun began to set in Indiana and the conference came to an end, Jennifer had one final question for me: “How do I convince my boss?”

Jennifer’s boss (female) had paid to come to this very same all-day training. But blew it off; more important things came up, one assumes.

Jennifer’s senior colleague, the head of marketing, paid to attend as well. This team of three was supposed to learn together about a lucrative, new-ish strategy called “donor-centricity.”

Her marketing guy blew it off as well.

Only fundraiser Jennifer put in the time.

And now she expects to be second-guessed back at the office, by her boss and by the marketing guy: those who bought seats and didn’t bother to attend.

Success isn’t for the ignorant

The nonprofit sector has a lot of very serious work to do.

As the earth’s human population (and its impact on our planet) multiplies, so do the problems.

But only Jennifer put in the time.

Her colleagues were fakers. She was true.

Her colleagues were happy in their ignorance. She was not.

Her colleagues were satisfied they already knew enough. She wanted to do better.

She was right. They were wrong.

Yet now they will second-guess her. She knows they will … because they always have.

Witness one form of abuse unique to fundraising.

You get the training. You learn, say, how and why donor-centered communications raise lots more money. But your boss doesn’t like the way donor-centered communications sound … so your boss says no.

Why? Because your boss doesn’t know any better. Because your boss trusts her own uninformed hunches, instincts, opinions more than she or he trusts you and the training you’ve just received.

And you need the job.

You could raise more money, if they let you put your training to work.

But your boss says no. And you need the job.

Visit Tom Ahern at

Photo by John Towner.