Breaking the Ignorance Ceiling

Tom Ahern

Why this book screamed to be made
In the US, as of 2017, there were something like 1.3 million government-sanctioned charitable organizations. It’s a growing sector: at current rates, about 47,000 new US charities are born each year.[1]

Is that a lot or a little, for a nation of some 330 million? I say it’s a lot. After all, the same population gets by with just 190,000 practicing dentists.

The nonprofit sector has become the third largest employer in the US, after retail and manufacturing.[2] It’s a massive industry … and not just in America. The world is a hurting place. The nonprofit sector is growing rapidly worldwide.
Yet, as an industry, we lack consensus on some basic stuff. And it’s hurting our viability.

You see, amongst those 1.3 million US charities mentioned above lurk probably 20 million disagreeing opinions about how to do fundraising communications “the right way” — when you add up fundraisers, their bosses, their boards and assorted second-guessers (program staff, I’m looking at you).

That’s just wrong. Not to mention counterproductive. And wasteful. And a great way to leave a lot of money on the table, hence starving the mission.

This book aims to break through the Ignorance Ceiling.

What’s the #1 complaint I hear from fundraisers worldwide?

“I’d love to. But my boss says no!” As in, “I understand we need to tell stories. But my boss insists we focus on statistics instead.” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it two dozen times.

Here is the simple truth regarding communications to individual donors: the charity world suffers from an abundance of opinion … and a scarcity of knowledge at the approval/senior/C-suite level.

Executive directors and board chairs who’ve never had to raise a penny through direct mail blithely pass judgment on direct mail. “I’d never read a four-page letter!” they declare. And other flagrant acts of hubris. Confident. Unchallenged.

Every board member hopes to emerge a hero, saving the day with a bright idea and a strong opinion. They’re not trying to be counter-productive, bless their hearts. But they are. Worst is the damage their ignorance does internally, by demoralizing their front-line fundraisers.

According to the dismal “Underdeveloped” report issued in 2013, 50% of fundraisers want a new employer and 50% of employers want a new fundraiser.

What the heck!?!
Let’s get serious, people.

This new book [available in 2019 from Emerson & Church] offers fundraisers — and their overseers — a quick review of some of what’s known — though maybe not yet universally known — about making money via your donor communications, print and digital.

World-class, best-in-industry fundraising practitioners generously provided the answers … from 7 countries.

Of course, this won’t answer every question. But it answers enough important, basic, essential, undeniable, worthwhile, profitable questions to demonstrate whether, in fact, your organization already knows it stuff … or could raise more money by adopting different ways.

[1], BBB Wise Giving Alliance, May 2018
[2] Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project, quoted May 2018 in Fast Company