Don’t survey your donors unless you have cultivation ready to go

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Almost 10 years ago, when MarketSmart was a marketing agency for private sector businesses and I first offered to help a charity generate leads, I recommended an outreach effort that included a mini-survey. It worked! So we expanded it to a more comprehensive donor survey and it worked even better.

The only problem was that the organization didn’t have enough staff to call the highly qualified leads.

I thought that was terrible.

How could you ask people to give up their most prized possession — their time — without delivering any follow-up soon after?

These people were pouring their hearts out in those surveys. They were sharing intimate information about themselves, their passions, their desires, and even their wills and estate plans.

“But we added them to the Legacy Society,” I was told.

I replied, “And the ones that didn’t leave the organization in their wills yet? What about them?”

“Well,” he responded, “I treat ’em like they never happened. Look, I don’t have time to cultivate every lead.”


Hmm. So that meant they were opted-in to a ‘club’ they didn’t ask to join. They were later sent a letter and a pin followed by a subscription to a magazine they did not request. That was it! That was how the supporters were treated.

In return for their ultimate gift ($63,000 average), they were ‘spammed’ with stuff they didn’t necessarily want or they were ignored. Nice job!

So what did I do?

I called the donors who said they already planned a gift and the prospects who said they were interested in doing so.

No, not all of them. There were way too many. After all, we were darn good at generating great leads!

This leads me back to the title of today’s post: Don’t survey your donors unless you have cultivation ready to go.

Folks… if you don’t have the time to properly cultivate the leads you generate from your outreach efforts, don’t do the efforts at all.

Ignoring your leads can actually be more harmful than not generating them at all. Asking people to take time out of their lives to fill-out a survey without consistent follow-up is just plain rude. Plus, it’s wasteful.

At MarketSmart, we felt so strongly about this (after I tried to make the calls myself) that we developed the only automated, highly personalized, highly relevant cultivation system that delivers the right messages to the right donors at the right times spawned by their survey answers and online digital body language. It’s amazing (of course I’m biased).

Bottom line: If you don’t have cultivation ready to go, don’t survey your donors (unless you want to tick ’em off).

Related Posts:

>>How It Works: Cultivate
>>Podcast Episode: Fundraising Climate Change

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