How I met Tom Ahern, and how you can too

I think it was 2005. There was a big AFP conference at the Convention Center in downtown Seattle. The Domain Group, where I worked at the time, had just moved into offices in the Convention Center. So we sort of acted as if we were hosting the event. (Mal Warwick stopped by for a visit, and we all swooned.)

I was attending as many sessions as I could between deadlines.

One session that caught my attention was some guy making amazing claims about newsletters. He said they could raise funds and improve donor retention.

This was exactly what we at the Domain Group were experiencing. The general belief in the industry was that newsletters were nice to have, but not a great way to improve the bottom line.

We’d discovered otherwise. The newsletters we produced were raising money. They were rivalling direct mail appeals in performance. Sometimes beating them. And we were making them better and better by a disciplined program of testing.

Still, it was a surprise when the round-headed genial speaker with really cool glasses (I might be conflating his current eye-wear with that day) revealed what he called the “Domain Formula” for newsletters.

Tom had learned it from a Domain Group colleague at another conference. He’d started working with it and seeing the same kind of success we were seeing.

Here’s what the Domain Formula included:

  • Mail the newsletter in an envelope. This is far more effective than mailing it newsletter as a self-mailer.
  • There’s a reply device and return envelope. Omitting one or both of them will seriously depress response.
  • The envelope says some variation of Newsletter enclosed.
  • Most of the stories are about the great things the donor made possible through her giving.
  • Most of the stories directly address donor.
  • Most of the stories are human stories, not statistics or descriptions of programs.
  • Headlines are dramatic and specific and built on strong verbs. The way the tabloids do it.
  • Every image tells a story. Photos should be expressive faces making eye contact, understandable action, or interesting context.
  • Designed for scanability. Lots of entry points into every story.

In a major mistake that I regretted for the next few years, I scurried out of Tom’s session as soon as it was over without introducing myself. If you’ve ever worked in an agency, you know the tyranny of client deadlines can lead you to weird decisions.

But I did email him, and we started a long correspondence. About newsletters and other fundraising topics.

Thanks to Tom, the Domain Formula has spread around our industry. Many organizations are using it to raise a lot more money from much more engaged donors. And it’s being refined and improved all the time.

Sadly, the Domain Group is no more. (How did it happen? You’re going to ply me with fine food and alcohol to get me to talk.)

But the Domain Formula — in Tom’s latest iteration — is more available to you than ever before.

Tom is teaching a brand-new Moceanic online course: Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter.

Four hour-long, in-depth sessions that will give you the full, detailed and most up-to-date version of the Domain Formula for Donor Newsletters.

Sign up now, and, the price is $100 off. Normally, Tom’s course will cost you $397. But now, it’s $297.

If you want to put the Domain Formula to work for your newsletter, this is where you’ll get it. More than just a helpful list of tactics, but details, real-life examples, and how-to specifics. (Including tons of bonus freebies that will take you even further.)

You can take the course on your own schedule and at your own pace. In fact, if you register right now, you can be taking the course about ten minutes from now.

If you’re thinking $297 is a lot to pay for online training, you won’t be thinking that after you take the course! Even if you miss the deadline and have to pay the full $397 price, you’ll know it was the smartest investment you made in a long time.

Anyway, there’s a money-back guarantee. If on the crazy off chance Tom’s course doesn’t give you the goods, you don’t have to pay.

So think about it, but not for long. Making Money With Your Donor Newsletter.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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