“Shiny New Thing” conference tempting you?

Notably re-quotable

Toxic positivity

“Toxic positivity is pressuring people to look on the bright side. They have to suppress anxiety, anger, sadness, and grief. ¶ “Healthy support is shielding people from the dark side. You invite them to express their pain, and show them they’re not alone and won’t feel it forever.” Psychologist Adam Grant, author of New York Times #1 best-seller, Think Again.

File under: What happens to “career knowledge” when good practitioners age out of their peer group….

As boomers leave, great young fundraisers arise…

Multi-generational training will be key to top performance

Could charities be entering a new Golden Age of fundraising? Looks promising! The transfer of wealth in coming years will be HUGE (think bequests, at a minimum). Back-to-basics comms training was never more critical.


Toby F., copywriter/long-time colleague, emailed me recently.

She was talking about career turbulence in her now-slightly-more-elder years … and where she’d therefore landed.

In sum: Toby is comfortable, in a nice rural cabin in PA. She continues to spend half her time in NYC as a freelance fundraising copywriter.

Right now, though? She’s faced with a typical freelancer’s cyclical task: trying to rebuild her client list.

Why the need to rebuild? Not because she’s failed; Toby gets the job done. BUT many of her faithful, familiar, longtime clients have retired in recent years.

In response, I wrote her…

That calm cabin in PA sounds absolutely perfect, Toby … at least for writers like us.

Coincidentally, [the response went on] I had lunch today with a terrific photographer who’s had the same thing happen to his career, sort of.

He’d had great clients for decades (mostly corporate) … but his primary contacts within those companies have little by little retired >>> and now he finds himself having to rebuild his network … and it’s going very slowly.

I’ve seen his work. I hired him recently to spruce up a case for support for an Indigenous-led museum. We had imagery … but some of it needed to be re-shot for quality purposes. He got the job done fabulously, at a good price: no muss, no fuss. Because he knows what he is doing.

He is the real deal, a great visual storyteller, well worth whatever … but younger professionals coming into the fundraising trade don’t necessarily trust nor want to hire their grandparents.

It’s just easier to work with your age-peers sometimes; you share so much common ground. It was — and remains — the same for me.

Peter just had a birthday: he’s 74. We went to lunch….

We began sharing the names of our highest-value mentors.

It was revealing … from a career-development standpoint.

Peter had learned the basics of his trade from a much older super-star in NYC. And I realized that I originally learned half of what I think I kinda know about marketing … from a man 25 years older, when I was in my 40s. His wisdom and experience and attention to detail, especially in research, have never failed me. Love you, Bob Harris!!!

And this also stood out: there is a canon in every specialty.

When I meet up for drinks with accomplished copywriters … of any age! … it turns out we’ve all pretty much read the same foundational how-to books; including one of the most important: John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods. It was 1st published in 1932. It’s now in its 5th edition.

A Golden Age of Donor Comms is here, but…

I know/admire/lift-ideas-from a lot of fabulous practitioners. It’s what wanna-be competent marketing professionals do (and, yes, fundraising is a kind of marketing).

Looking at those practitioners’ work and their outstanding results, I believe the practice of fundraising communications could be on the threshold of a Golden Age … because we now know so much more, for instance, thanks to neuroscience and such hard-nosed researchers as the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy (UK).

We have new disciplines to explore like Dr. Jen Shang’s “identity-based” fundraising … which has been field-tested for a decade or more with nonprofits large and small … and can lead to enormous gains in giving … quickly, too … when adequately executed (great execution is NOT necessary; adequate execution gets results, too).

We’re maybe also entering, I sense, a much-needed back-to-basics age: because training in what “the ancients” knew (the top direct-mail response performers from at least 1900 on) is unsuspected and little taught; worse, little appreciated.


Take Facebook fundraising, e.g.

Around 2009, the first charity that I know of had cracked Facebook fundraising. They had a good, well-grounded-in-the-basics agency (Pareto in Australia) helping them.

And soon enough these pioneers were dragging down $350,000 MONTHLY (not a typo) in donations for a small (now big!!!) animal welfare charity in Bangkok, Thailand (Soi Dog).

Not so much from Thailand, either: most gifts were from women 45 and older ——— animal lovers ——— in English-speaking countries around the world (all the Facebook promos were in English).

What was a clear takeaway from their success, IMHO?

$$$hiny new things won’t be all new

They tested a lot of messages and approaches. And … surprise, surprise … what worked best on Facebook (this new medium/channel) were offers that could have been written by any well-trained direct-mail copywriter in the 1950s.

Most of the basics behind good response have been discovered — and they don’t change much.

In my own practice, I almost daily use the proto-psychological insights of Seneca, an ancient Roman. This is not to fake erudition: my grief counselor put me on to Seneca.

FYI: This old Roman was more popular than the emperor of the moment, a psychopath named Nero. Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself. Seneca did. Beware psychopathic emperors, right? Nero was remembered for being a murderous jerk. Seneca helped countless people down through the ages (including me) with his humane wisdom.


My final opinion: “Shiny New Thing” conferences are titillating. But you can’t maximize that prolific new knowledge without a firm grasp of the basics, the behind-the-scenes stuff that backstop high-achieving professionals.

A presentation titled, “How you can raise big bucks on Instagram” should probably be truthfully retitled, “How most of you attending today will make almost no money on Instagram.”

There are no miracles in professional fundraising. It is some of the hardest work I’ve encountered on earth.

And the best prepared, best trained ALWAYS do way better.

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Did you miss any crucial back issues of my how-to e-news?

Immediately available! Just GO here.

Have you met Claire yet? You REALLY should.

HERE. Claire Axelrad’s fundraising advice is some of the best, most doable, most effective I’ve encountered globally … and a lot of it is FREE, via her celebrated bi-weekly Clairity Click-it e-newsletter! Want to delve even deeper? Enroll in her fabulous Clairification School.’

For persuasion-communication geeks only (which should include all of us)

HERE. Persuasive comms rely on just a few intelligently-handled tools: words, images, sound, an understanding of the target audience … such like: the fundamentals of marketing. The competition for the new license plate in Rhode Island (where I live) was a multi-vehicle wreck-a-thon complete with ambulances and people picking their noses.

You know how it is? You’re tooling down a highway, checking out cars from other states … and one powerfully catches your eye: “Oooh, cool plate!” RI’s new license plate design won’t elicit that response very often, I suspect. Two things happened: (1) untrained bureaucracy controlled the approval process; (2) a popular vote offered only a handful of bland designs.

Judge for yourself. Trust me: whatever you like most likely will never dangle from RI bumpers. Too bad, too: license plates are little billboards that get stared at a lot by other travelers. They change minds! The ironic grace note? RI has inside its borders one of the greatest, most influential design schools on earth: the RI School of Design (founded 1877) >>> and a RISD graduate (irony compounded) actually designed this bland muffin, acceptable at any staff meeting.

A thank-you video worth delighting in

HERE. The Queer/Trans Zinefest wanted to thank the RI Council for the Humanities for a 2022 grant that made all sorts of good things happened. This warm, charismatic 1:10 minute YouTube video followed. The embedded case for support starts at 43 seconds.

No-cost way to improve your mood NOW!

HERE. Feeling down? TRY this instant upper! One of my all time faves. It reminds of all the joy I’ve had in NOLA over a long career. Reminds me to move my body (yeah, old man). Reminds me: hey, love life. Life is a troubled gift. But it’s a gift. Don’t be ungrateful, if you can manage it. Thanks, Jon Batiste. And if you need analytics, here’s the annotated version. If that doesn’t do it, here’s another Jon Batiste video. And if THAT doesn’t do it, maybe stay out of New Orleans?

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