Seeing Through a Donor's Eyes: How to Make a Persuasive Case for Everything from Your Annual Drive to Your Planned Giving Program to Your Capital Campaign

Tom Ahern starts his new book by humbly giving readers a chance to decide whether they even need it:

Here's an easy test. Let's pretend that a potential donor magically appears this instant and asks: Why should I give you my money now?
If you can persuasively answer that question and make the essential sale, you probably don't need this book.
But if you, like most, find yourself fumbling for answers, starting and restarting, feeling a bit like the "deer in the headlights" — then, yes, this book will definitely help you.

Ahern, an award-winning nonprofit communications consultant who's in high demand to appear at workshops and conferences, has won three Gold Quill awards and written numerous case statements for successful fundraising campaigns.

Thus, he knows of what he speaks when he says the case statement is "an act of good management... [It is] the mother ship" of all fundraising material that puts every potential voice, writer, and advocate on the same page. Indeed, it is the basis for any fundraising or communications effort, be it a capital campaign, a planned giving appeal, a request for general operating support, a newsletter, or a Web site.

As he did in his 2005 book, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, Ahern emphasizes a "donor-centric" approach and blames what Chip and Dan Heath call "the curse of knowledge" for the failure of many fundraising materials.

Instead, says Ahern, questions should be asked and answered with the donor in mind, and credit should be given to the donor for helping you achieve your mission: "Donors are the most important players on the field...key players on your team. Let's face it: without charitable investment, many organizations would shrink or sink."

As in his previous books, Ahern presents his advice in lots of short chapters (four to six pages each). Topics covered include:

  • why you matter to donors
  • telling your story
  • making your case bigger than you
  • assembling your information
  • the role of visuals

Some of the chapters act much like a checklist. Chapters 7 to 14, for example, are titled "Day 1...," "Day 2...," through Day 5 and describe what you should do during the first five days when preparing your case statement.

But don't let Ahern's orderly timeline fool you into thinking the crafting of a case statement is a simple project that can be done in a week. The five-day prescription is, in his words, "just the raw [time] requirement — in a perfect, no problems, world" needed to write a case for support (and remember, he does this for a living). Real life's inevitable delays and approval chains invariably will stretch the process out over months — three if you're "speedy," says Ahern, six if your organization is like most.

Ahern's former career as a magazine journalist is evident in his easy-to-read and engaging prose, which is broken up by plenty of bold section headings and bulleted lists and illustrated by snapshots of real case statements intended to help the reader visualize the advice he dispenses.

I also appreciated the fact that he doesn't dwell on himself and his own successes and is more than willing to mention mistakes he has made. He's also more than willing to give credit where credit is due, often quoting or paraphrasing Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (a "MUST!!! read for all professional communicators" — indeed, it IS a good book), "super-fundraiser" Jerold Panas, and others.

A fast read at 167 pages — ten of which are an entire, actual case statement —Seeing Through a Donor's Eyes is perfect for the time-strapped nonprofit staffer (and who isn't?) who wants to create consistent, compelling messages that will make it past the filters of equally time-strapped donors.

Sandy Pon
Virtual Library/Learning Center Specialist
Foundation Center
Cleveland, Ohio