How to put marketing automation to work for your nonprofit’s fundraising

Catching up.

If you read all my previous posts (starting here) about how you can use marketing automation to raise more major and legacy gifts, you’re probably starting to see how powerful this technology can be for your nonprofit’s fundraising operations.

But how can you use it so your staff can be the fundraisers they want to be

Two types of data you want and need.

While automation can do many things, let’s first focus on two specific types of information you should aim to collect before you run off and start building out email ‘dripsand sequences:

  1. Verbatims: the things supporters tell you. You can collect verbatims from one-to-one email responses that come directly from your supporters after they receive your offers for engagement. These ‘replies’ are serious qualifiers that fundraisers can use to generate more dialogue, build trust, and grow relationships.
  2. Digital body language: what supporters do online. These are captured thanks to technological tracking. This data helps you understand what each supporter (by name and donor ID#) is doing online as they navigate your webpages in real time so you can act immediately. This data might include the amount of time each supporter spends viewing your content, where they click, what videos they watch, what they share and what they download. It is important to capture digital body language because what people say doesn’t always align with what they do. 

Now that you understand those types of information, next you’ll learn how you can capture both quite easily.

Don’t just ask… offer!

In order to get the most out of any fundraising automation system you’ll need to forget about asking for money for a while. 

As we mentioned previously, people (especially high-value donors) are tired of hearing from their favorite causes mostly through solicitations. Instead, they want invitations for engagement or offers of content so they feel involved and educated.

Sure, an opportunity to donate is an invitation for engagement. But it’s one that should be reserved for when a supporter has signaled their readiness to receive it. Most of the time, you should offer them cultivation or stewardship communications that include value-oriented, highly relevant, personalized content offers

Include links to your offers in your automated emails so your supporters fill out forms (mini-questionnaires) on landing pages. By providing offers that resonate with your supporters, you’ll encourage them to lean in so you can capture verbatims and digital body language.

Offer something supporters value and you’ll raise more money

At first, providing valuable offers to major donor prospects might feel a bit counterintuitive. After all, the core function of your job is to ask, not give. However, at MarketSmart, we have found that generous fundraisers inspire generosity among their caseloads of supporters. 

However, it is important to remember that value is in the eye of the beholder. So you must use the verbatims your supporters have supplied, along with the digital body language you collected, to ensure that you deliver offers that resonate.

Once that standard is met, you will also want to consider this MarketSmart checklist. It will help you decide whether your offer idea is really worth developing and offering to your supporters.

  • Is your offer fun?
  • Is it fair?
  • Are you being honest and transparent?
  • Will it educate or inform?
  • Is it shareable?
  • Does it evoke emotion?
  • Does it release dopamine and/or oxytocin (make them feel good)?
  • Does it help them feel like they are the hero in their own life story (provide feelings of autobiographical heroism)?
  • Does it give them a sense that they can live forever in the minds of others (provide feelings of symbolic immortality)?
  • Does it enable them to give back or pay it forward to others?
  • Does it allow them to feel that they are being altruistic?
  • Does it provide a sense of community (a connection with others)?
  • Does it give them notoriety and/or praise?
  • Does it enable them to right some wrongs they want to change in our society?
  • Does it give them a feeling that they may be able to satisfy their religious or moral principles?

Bottom line: If an offer idea does not provide value to your supporters, don’t use it!

Here are some content offers we have found are most effective for helping supporters engage and move themselves through the major gift consideration continuum.

Supporter surveys

There’s pent-up demand among your base of supporters (including donors, volunteers, social media followers and advocates) for a chance to enter into an arms-length conversation with you—especially at the early stages of their consideration process for making a major gift. 

That’s why a supporter survey is the single most effective offer you can provide. Remember, if you ask people for advice, you get money. If you ask them for money, you get advice. Especially when the relationship is new. 

But surveys are only valuable when you use the data you capture to show your donors you have listened to their responses… and the best way to do that is with fundraising automation.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to employ surveys

More than a decade has passed since MarketSmart first pioneered combining surveys with marketing automation emails. 

During that period a number of firms have sought to sell a similar concept. However, unfortunately, they usually only sell surveys without proper follow-up. They fail to tie each supporter’s survey responses to a marketing automation system that can spawn automated emails based on the verbatims each individual supplies. 

That’s too bad, because cultivation is the key to effective fundraising. A survey is just a tool to gather information that should be used for cultivation. If the two are not tied to one another, donation revenues often actually decrease among those who took the survey. 

When you stop to think about it, that makes perfect sense. Once a wealthy, older, philanthropic-minded person gives you their most precious asset—their time—shouldn’t they expect your communications going forward to show that you listened?

Marketing automation helps prove you listened. 

Sudden solicitations will make supporters feel unappreciated and possibly even misled. After all, by taking your survey, they showed you they wanted to be heard. And by offering it to them, you implied you would listen. 

So be careful with surveys. They are, in fact, just tools. Like hammers, they can be used to either build or break things. If you only use them to ‘take’ information from your supporters, you’ll fracture (or possibly shatter) their trust. 

Build trust

If you use surveys to ‘show them that you know them,’ you’ll engender engagement and goodwill. You’ll collect valuable information. And you’ll grow their trust as you cultivate the relationship—automatically!

Through a survey, you can ask about interests and passions, why they care about your mission, where they reside in the consideration process for making a gift, whether they’d like to make that gift with cash, assets, or after their lifetime, and so much more. 

Then, with a well-designed fundraising automation system, you can continually provide value. Your communications will resonate as you check each supporter’s pulse (so to speak) by monitoring their verbatims and digital body language.

It’s a polite-yet-persistent tech-enabled donor discovery and cultivation methodology, delivered at scale—thanks to fundraising automation technology.

     Learn how to conduct donor surveys with this complimentary eReport available here


Other content offers

Most prospective major donors spend the majority of their time in the WHY stage, wondering, “Why should I care, get involved or give?” 

If your cultivation is done well, they will move themselves into the HOW stage and wonder, “How should I give?” But that will take time. A lot of time. Going through the stages of considering a major gift is a marathon, not a sprint. 

However, there is a way to help your supporters move themselves forward through the consideration continuum. Novelty!

Novelty makes people feel good. It provides variety that is attractive because people are naturally drawn to opportunities to acquire new information or become involved in fresh, new experiences.

Researchers at University College in London studied this in 2006. They found that novel information and experiences trigger the release of dopamine—the feel-good hormone our bodies produce —making us feel there’s a reward waiting around the corner. Their research suggests that we associate positivity with novel offers. 

Researchers also found that novelty improves memory. By combining new information with familiar information during learning sessions, their subjects’ memories of the familiar increased by 19%. 

So providing your supporters with new information, or new ways of engaging with familiar concepts, helps them understand and retain your organization’s mission, need, and how they can make an impact. 

Also, that new information should be designed to appeal to supporters based on where they reside in their consideration continuum. 

7 novel offers

Here are seven novel offers our experts at MarketSmart recommend our customers employ: 

  1. A storytelling effort your supporters can use to tell their stories using our Tell Your Story add-on
  2. A Digital Newsletter add-on to help cultivate leads and draw engagement
  3. A Door Opener add-on that literally sets appointments for you and your staff
  4. An IRA QCD efforts add-on that encourages gifts from IRAs
  5. An Online Will tool add-on that helps supporters leave a legacy
  6. A Legacy Challenges add-on that helps you raise major gifts and legacy gifts at the same time
  7. and, A Stewardship Series add-on that helps ensure that gifts in wills stay there

MarketSmart Efforts

Each one supports your supporters as they make their way through the consideration continuum. 


Wrapping up (for now)

If you made it this far, you now have a much better understanding of how you can put fundraising automation (marketing automation) to work to support your fundraising operations. 

However, as always, if you’d like to learn more about our done-for-you duo of technology plus services, we’d be thrilled to talk to you. We call it Engagement Fundraising and hundreds of nonprofits like yours are already quietly powering their operations with our System — making them more efficient and effective.

Feel free to contact me at to learn more about how it works in a no-pressure, education-only environment. Or sign up for a no-pressure demonstration here.

Related Posts:

>> The case for marketing automation: Why nonprofit fundraising operations should automate tasks to optimize staff performance

>> How marketing automation helps nonprofits raise more major gifts, planned gifts and mid-level gifts at lower cost

>> Can your nonprofit organization afford to invest in marketing automation?

>> Do you really need MORE gift officers to raise more money?

>> 3 types of marketing automation fundraising operations need to understand (including one you really need to deploy right away) 

>> Top 10 ways marketing automation helps nonprofits raise more money for less


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