There are indeed great nonprofit bosses (worked for some). There are indeed great nonprofit boards (I’m assured).

Tom Ahern

There are indeed great nonprofit bosses (worked for some). There are indeed great nonprofit boards (I’m assured).

And then there are the dumb, revenue-suppressing approval processes that the fundraising industry deals with daily…

Simon Scriver #FundraisingEverywhere asked me to speak.

Simon wanted me to reminisce. I’m old. He’s not yet old. He thought I could speak with authority on something like, “If I could return to the start of my career, what would I advise the younger me?”

The first subject that leapt to mind was this: “Beware the approval process. Get that sorted first … or you’re screwed.”

I asked him: “I don’t want to be too negative, though. So, what do you think of the following idea?”
About 10 years into my now-20-year career in fundraising comms (before that I was in commercial marketing), I began insisting on the Verbatim Rule.
The rule is this: I refuse to accept new direct-mail clients unless they (or the boss, if the chief fundraiser isn’t the boss) agree not to change a word I wrote.
Thanks to that rule, my appeals make money … sometimes a LOT of money. The NY Times wrote an article about a single direct mail appeal I penned that conjured up more than 30,000 new donors for a community hospital. Why? Because the annual fund manager, bless his heart, never changed a word. He allowed my pen to do its work, deploying ALL my training (which included training in commercial direct mail, training by Mal Warwick, training by Ken Burnett, training by George Smith, Harvey McKinnon, Jeff Brooks … a large roomful of others).
The Verbatim Rule protects clients, not me.

My goal is always the same: to raise as much money for your .org as I can, using everything I know.
And one of the things I know is (as Bea Sørum would say) BE BOLD!

If I didn’t insist on the Verbatim Rule — and I had to worry about CLIENT approval — I couldn’t BE BOLD.

Because charities are timid by nature. And their bosses don’t know beans about how direct mail really works … all they know is, “Whoa! We don’t talk like that! That might offend someone! Panic and gates of hell stuff! Fund-pocalypse NOW!!!!”

My modest proposal (nod to J. Swift)

Fundraisers should INSIST on the Verbatim Rule BEFORE they accept a job offer.
Since I began speaking regularly (around 2003) … and, hence, began hearing about the real-life problems that fundraisers in my audiences faced … I’ve heard the same complaint over and over: “My boss won’t let me do it.”
“Do what?”
“Use the word ‘you’ a lot.”

Or 10 other things I’d just tried to teach that audience.
Sound of trap door opening. Sound of respectable results going through the floor.
The nonprofit industry — especially once you drop below the thin uppercrust of .orgs that can afford top talent/agencies — is still frequently dominated by ignorant bosses and lousy approval processes.

Part of that is reflected in the #MeToo complaints: the org. chart (ED/board) has the authority to second-guess fundraisers … and they’re made miserable.

They try to learn … then they aren’t allowed to execute. Swear to G_d: if legislation were passed saying that nonprofit bosses were barred from the approval process, fundraising would double in 3 years.
Only ONE person should have ANY say over outbound donor comms … and that’s the chief fundraiser.
Denisa Casement and the growth she achieved at Merchants Quay is the perfect example. The founder/boss got out of her way. She deftly fended off board member “bright ideas” (she’s told me some doozies). And she therefore (with the able assistance of Lisa Sargent and Sandie Collette) increased giving to the .org (I dunno) 10 times? I.e., she made them a bloody fortune … because she only had to answer to herself.

Her failures were hers. Her successes were hers.
Anyway, that’s the rough idea, Simon, for my presentation.

  • : Tom Ahern