Some people find me abrasive. Here's why.

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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.

Recently I was told, “Greg, you are one strong cup of coffee.”
I like that. Here’s why I am the way I am:
1. I believe life is very, very short. Both of my parents died in their 60’s. One of my best friends died last year at 54. I am 47. I think the fundraising sector needs to change, now! I don’t have time to wait. Today could be my last day. I have a tremendous sense of urgency.
I believe I need to get things done now! I guess that makes me a bit abrasive.
2. Complacency is a prelude to disaster. Our sector is failing to improve. That frustrates me tremendously. The fact that revenues from charitable gifts have been stuck at just 2% of GDP (gross domestic product) for over four decades is a crime. And it’s not the donors’ crime. It’s ours. We need to take responsibility for this. Imagine how much good could be done if we helped the revenues from charitable gifts grow to just 2.5% of GDP! That could add almost another $100 billion to help others! The sector can’t be complacent any longer.
I believe the sector must change now! I guess that makes me a bit abrasive.
3. The technology for success already exists. Technology is a game-changer. When it’s leveraged properly, it can make almost anything more effective— including fundraising. For example, just look at how much more efficient Uber, Apple, Google, and others have made all of us. But the nonprofit sector has been slow to adopt new technologies and strategies even though doing so would increase giving, make donors happy and make fundraisers more effective. But too often I run into people in the sector that don’t want to change. They don’t want to adopt new ways of doing things.
I believe nonprofit staff needs to embrace new technologies now! I guess that makes me a bit abrasive.
4. Too often donors are treated very poorly. Sometimes I wonder if lots of nonprofit staff might not be donating. Could the majority of them, perhaps, feel that they don’t need to donate since they already work hard all day helping to make an impact? If that’s the case, then it explains why so many nonprofits have such poor retention rates. It explains why so many lack donor-centricity. You can’t be donor-centric if you don’t know how it feels to be a donor, can you? The absence of donor-centricity leads to poor treatment of donors. I think that isn’t right and isn’t nice.
I believe nonprofit staff needs to treat their donors the same way they’d want to be treated! I guess that makes me a bit abrasive.
I’m frustrated.
Remember, I got into this because I was a pissed off donor. I wanted to figure out how to ensure that donors, like me, were treated better.
Less spray and pray marketing.
Less show up and throw up fundraising.
Less abuse of major donors and others.
I beg you, please don’t misconstrue my frustration.
What some perceive as abrasive others perceive as passion.
I’m on a mission. My train is moving. Will you get aboard? I hope so!
If not, please get out of the way because this sector must change for the good of donors everywhere, for the good of the beneficiaries of your donors’ gifts, for the good of the staff at your organization, and for the good of millions of organizations around the world.
Whew! Maybe I should switch to decaf.


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20 responses to “Some people find me abrasive. Here's why.”

  1. Nancy Preston says:

    Love your commentary, Greg. My “tag line” is: “I challenge people and organizations to think and do differently.” I have not been retained on several occasions because I have high expectations, I set a high bar, I may appear to threaten the status quo… I am proud to say that I survived the economic downturn in the late 2000’s despite organizations saying they had to continue “treading water” and weren’t in positions to change things up, despite recognizing the need to. There is so much potential in the nonprofit sector…and I – like you – remain committed to guiding organizations towards high performance.
    Fortunately…I don’t drink coffee! Onward!

  2. David says:

    In the words of the esteemed philosopher Matthew McConaughey, …”Right on. Right on. Right on!”
    Non-profits exist to achieve their good purpose (mission). If non-profits have more, they can do more.
    You say – complacency is the prelude to disaster.
    I would add, we all know mediocrity exists, but why would we ever want to embrace it?
    Guess I’m a kindred spirit – (a.k.a., abrasive, passionate, aging fundraiser).

    • Greg Warner says:

      Yes! David, I love that guy Matthew McConaughey. He carries the same passion albeit less abrasive. Different strokes for different folks. Thanks for being part of our “tribe”!

  3. Mike says:

    Continue to be abrasive! The lethargy and contentment with 60%-70% donor attrition is atrocious! It’s too bad philanthropy officers are not measured on the key metrics. Unfortunately, most of them do not know their key metrics. Dr. Eddie Thompson recently spoke to +700 fundraisers, and 3 (THREE) had a strategic plan for at least three years.

  4. Kelley Tetzlaff says:

    Greg, I can ad an “AMEN!”, and “PREACH it brother” to your comments!!
    It is time that the charitable world wake up and come out the 15th or 16th century!
    Stay ‘robust coffee’ strong- change the world. I want to be on the same train!

  5. Kurt W. says:

    Nice! Lemmings don’t create change. No one ever got fired for “doing what everyone else does”, but then again, none of them ever changed an industry.

  6. Scott says:

    I share your passion, Greg. When you understand the magnitude of the potential and realize we are not fully tapping into that, it drives you to want to do more. There is huge opportunity. We simply need to understand how to better communicate and engage with the masses.I appreciate your insights and fine work in this area.
    As for strong coffee, bring it on!

  7. Jonathan Kresken says:

    A great fire burns within me but no one stops to warm themselves at it and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke Van Gogh
    Keep the fire burning and add some wind to the flame to keep it going
    Thanks for the words of wisdom, Greg

    • Greg Warner says:

      Thanks so much Jonathan. I’m so thrilled to have you (and The Citadel Foundation) as a client. I love looking at your MarketSmart dashboard ad seeing all those leads we generated together. Almost 1,400! Plus about 140 legacy gifts found. Wow!!

  8. William Skaggs says:

    I love a strong cup of good coffee. I also love passion. If those are making you “abrasive,” then maybe too many are enjoying weak coffee inside their personal bubble, safely hidden from passion … and change 😉

  9. Laura Waller says:

    Keep going, Greg – There is too much at stake to not be a TRUTH TELLER about the situation. Too much missed opportunity and too much vulnerability to be silent and not set the bar higher and challenge the profession to dig deeper.

  10. Helen says:

    Dear Greg, Passion is great, and I agree with you that there is lots of opportunity to be grasped in our sector. But — and maybe this is me being British — but my experience is that people don’t do things because you yell at them & talk about how terrible everything is. Donors don’t give in response to that, and co-workers don’t embrace change in response to it either. People respond when you show them positive practical solutions that they can realistically implement. I’ve developed fundraising programmes for two organisations, the first of those is now regularly bringing in over £1m a year, the second has tripled its fundraised income since I came here 21/2 years ago. Not because I am super brilliant, but because across the organisation, I’ve got people to understand that fundraising is not something the Development Department (all 2 of us!) does – it’s something we all play a part in, and there are clear things each colleague can do that help us raise more money for our work. I highly recommend a book called “Switch – how to change when change is hard” by Chip & Dan Heath. They make the point that what looks like resistance to change (or what you might call complacency) is often lack of clarity.
    In your role as a commentator, you have a fantastic opportunity to give clear direction on how to do something better, and your posts often do this … please don’t undermine your credibility by starting to just rage at the way things are.
    That’s my rant over 🙂

    • Greg Warner says:

      Love this! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Helen for such a great reminder. Your “rant” is not brilliant because you are British but because YOU ARE BRILLIANT. Thank you for your very wise counsel.

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