Tom Ahern suggests six questions fundraisers should ask themselves to audit the star power – or mediocrity – of their donor communications.

Question MarkI’ve always been a self-defined star. I always wanted to be the best at what I did. So I assume you do, too. I mean, why else do the job? Who wants to be mediocre? You want to be a star. Which means you have to know good donor communications inside and out.

So here’s a self-audit. Answer the questions below, and you’ll know for sure: (1) “I am a star already, in the area of donor communications.” (2) “I could become a star, if I just do these things.” Or (3) “Mediocrity’s okay. My mother said so.”

1. Do you read?

Do you keep up? “Best practices” mutate by the day. What’s the last article you read about donor communications, in print or digital? Who’s Adrian Sargeant? If you don’t know, read any of his books before wasting your time with the rest of this self-audit. What’s Future Fundraising Now, written by Jeff Brooks? How about The Agitator, co-authored by world-experts in the US and New Zealand?

2. Do you have control?

Do you have full discretionary authority over your appeals, newsletters and other donor communications? Or do you have to seek approval? Yes and no? Or no and yes? (Hint: if your answer is “no and yes,” either change that immediately or seek another job).

3. Are you personally across fundraising’s current body of knowledge?

What, for instance, are the three basic tasks of donor communications? (Ask, thank, report.) Which is better at convincing new donors, stats or stories? (Stories.) Do you know that you’re actually in sales? Do you, therefore, know that your “donors” are in fact your “customers”? Can you define and apply “donor-centricity”? And do you know what you’re selling?

4. Do you plan?

What is your communications plan for the next year? Does it include at least eight contacts, including a reactivation appeal for the lapsed? (Effective marketing requires frequent contact. You plan for that.)

5. Do you track essential and revealing metrics?

Two will directly reflect the quality of your donor communications: (1) lifetime value of donors; and (2) new donor retention. A charity that doesn’t track either is simply guessing.

6. Do you take risks?

What’s the weirdest thing you sent out in the last year?

If any aspects of this self-audit confuse you, then there’s a good possibility your communications program, as it stands, is potentially in part or entirely rubbish and producing far less charitable revenue than it could.

Tom AhernTom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on donor communications. Based in New York he is a consultant, author and speaker who specialises in applying psychology and neuroscience discoveries to the day-to-day business of finding and retaining donors.

Learn more from Tom at the FIA Conference 2015 in Brisbane ( on February 18 to 20 where he is a keynote speaker and will present on topics including how to make direct mail work and how to get a good return from your communications investment. He will also run a Masterclass in integrated direct marketing.

Click here to register now.

Main image courtesy of Master isolated images at

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