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The Real Story of MarketSmart…

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.

You may already know that MarketSmart helps nonprofits engage with their supporters in a way that keeps them highly involved and committed— so they give more. 

But what you might not know is that the personal challenges I faced building this business have been tremendous. So today, I thought I’d share my story with you. 

I tried to bury what follows because it was so painful. But, when I was interviewed because my firm won a very big award (last year), it got me thinking about the challenges I/we overcame to get here.

Here is my story:

I started the business in 2008 during the economic downturn. It was shortly after my dad died from a heart attack and my stepmother began to sue me for his estate.

My dad 2 weeks before he suddenly died from a heart attack

Here’s a picture of my dad 2 weeks before he suddenly died from a heart attack

At the same time, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer.
That meant I had to help her physically, emotionally and financially. Then one of her nurses stole $50,000 from her after giving her an overdose of drugs and rousing her from her sleep to have her sign checks emptying money from my mom’s account to her’s and her friend’s.

On top of all that, sadly, that crime led some people to judge how I took care of my mom (even though they weren’t involved in her care at all). I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t with her 24/7. But I had to work. When she first got sick, I brought my laptop to her bedside and worked beside her. But I just couldn’t do that every hour of every day. Nevertheless, I felt horrible about it. Reprehensibly, those people made me a pariah. It still breaks my heart.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 9.20.34 AM

Me and my mom before we learned about the cancer

Mom in the hospital dealing with operations, chemo and radiation

Mom in the hospital dealing with operations, chemo and radiation

If that wasn’t enough, the adjustable rate mortgage on my home came due and my house payment more than doubled.
The business wasn’t ready to provide my family with an income. I had been paying my employees. And, of course some of them wanted raises. But I wasn’t yet paying myself. And, in fact, the business needed a lot more capital just to keep it alive. 
Everything was hitting me at once.
Plus, many of you probably know that my wife has been a Type 1 diabetic since the age of 8. The birth of both of our children was tremendously challenging. Her daily life is filled with blood sugar testing, episodes of hypoglycemia and other demands. It was because of her dreadful disease that I took particular notice of a terribly offensive newsletter sent to us from a diabetes-related charity. That’s what led me to realize that I could do more to support the search for a cure by helping them overhaul their marketing efforts than by giving them money. More on that can be found here.

So, on top of my dad dying, his wife suing me, my mom dealing with cancer, my mortgage coming due and my business floundering, I had tremendous concerns for my wife’s well-being.
Her disease made it especially challenging for her to rear our two young children. I desperately wanted to be there to see them grow up because my dad wasn’t around much when I was a young boy or a teenager. He left our home when I was just 12, leaving me with my mom who suffered from chronic depression, anxiety and other issues.
I can’t believe how much I was dealing with when I look back. But I’m sure many of you have faced similar hard times. Everyone does, including your donors, volunteers and the beneficiaries of their gifts and time.
Finally, MarketSmart started to deliver serious results for our clients.
I was thrilled. Making progress warmed my heart. Building relationships with great people around the world made me feel like I was contributing. Making the world a better place.
But we still weren’t out of the weeds yet because many fundraisers simply were not yet ready to accept our “disruptive” software and strategies. In fact, soon after achieving amazing results for a few of our clients I was invited to speak about our successes at a fundraising symposium. But a handful of naysayers heckled me so much I couldn’t even finish my presentation. It was awful! I felt like an Uber driver at a taxi cab convention all because my technologies and methods were unorthodox and unconventional. 
Today MarketSmart is finding more acceptance but, we still frequently encounter consternation.
I guess I’m a pariah to some in the nonprofit sector too. Such is the life of a disruptive, conscientious capitalist. We’re growing very fast. People keep asking about buying us or funding us. We’re winning awards. But most of all, we’re delivering results in line with our brand promise and our mission.

So that’s my story.
And now I just want to say “THANK YOU” to my wife. She is everything to me. She is the reason I started the business— to help raise money to cure her diabetes. She is my inspiration, my support, and my most trusted advisor. She is my true love and my best friend. If you ever meet her, you should thank her too. Without her, none of this would be possible.
Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 9.09.45 AM

41 responses to “The Real Story of MarketSmart…”

  1. Karen says:

    Greg, thanks for so freely sharing your journey. Congratulations on the success you’ve achieved as a result of your impeccable marketing talent and personal ethos.

  2. Greg, I for one am so grateful that despite your incredible personal challenges you persevered with your business. My organization – and more importantly, the millions of people in need who access our services – has benefited enormously from your creative and disruptive ways of thinking. Planned giving especially is a world where the status quo is king and no one wants to rock the boat. Add to that an unhealthy distaste of “marketing” and it’s no wonder people were skeptical. But how selfish it is to refuse to consider new and different way to raise more money and to help more people! Keep disrupting, Greg! You’re a great role model for your kids.

  3. Mike Cowart says:

    Greg,
    Once again, you have proven the power of “story” and there is no gain without pain!
    Thanks

  4. Sasha Lewis says:

    Wow. Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on your success! I had just learned about SCORE and saw your mention of it the same week. Excited to learn more and encouraged after reading your post.
    Best,
    Sasha Lewis

  5. Pamela Miler says:

    Greg, thank you for sharing your story. Your strength, determination, love and resilience are inspiring. As for those who felt compelled to judge you, they have not walked in your shoes and do not your heart. We do. You have made a difference in the lives of many, and we know that — remember that. My best to you and yours!

  6. Lucy Barnett says:

    I have learned so much from your blogs, high level perspective and sage advice. You pass on key concepts, powerful messages and encouragement freely. When meeting with Board around their fundraising roles, if I print out something from you, it’s accepted without question because it is concise, on point and very “human” too. Best to you on your path. You’ve helped more people and nonprofits than you know.

  7. Roland Emerton says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is deeply inspirational. Reminds me of Jim Valvano’s “never quit” speech. Much appreciated and God bless you and your family.

  8. Scott says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Greg. I love what you’re doing. Keep up the great work. And thank you so much for hanging in there!

  9. Dianne says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a caregiver to my mom after losing my dad last year, I could really relate to some of the things you have been through.

  10. Greg Shannon says:

    Everyone has a story and now I know yours. Like the others above I always find tremendous value in your posts and so does our team. Thanks Greg and I wish you nothing but success and great memories with your family today and in the future.
    Greg

  11. Laura says:

    Greg, thank you for sharing. You are blessed with the greatest asset: A loving family. God bless you!

  12. Theresa says:

    What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing it. We all suffer hardships, but when they all seem to occur at once it can be simply overwhelming. Many of us owe you for seeing it all through and bringing us encouraging ways to better our seach for more and bigger donors!

  13. Mbwoge Ngole Solomon says:

    Most of the comments on this sad story are of 2015 precisely September. I believe I was missing something good. I am astonished to read such a sorrowful narration from a white colored family. We in Africa, feel sometime that blacks suffer most. I am happy you shared this story with many, and observing you, where you are now, will encourage many , I NOT EXCLUDED. You were truly led by the Holy Spirit. God will continue to bless you more and more in Jesus name- Amen.

  14. Kelley Tetzlaff says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for sharing. I have appreciated your approach, methods and material from the first day I became connected to your organization.
    Now however, I am honored to even say that i know you, even if it is only via your marketing emails and a couple of contacts through your sales.
    Truly inspiring and appreciated. Blessing to you.
    Kelley R.J. Tetzlaff
    BGCA

  15. Bob Werner says:

    Greg – Your sad story is part of our human experience and I salute you for having the strength and fortitude to create and achieve what you have. This is a tribute to those that you love.
    I met your organization through Fundraising Report Card which is but one of the great innovations you and your team have created, It has been a great gift to the several non-profits that i work with as a volunteer. Thank you.

  16. Gary says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for sharing your story and making me aware of the challenges you have undertaken,it is a powerful story and applaud you in persevering in the challenging times that you have gone through.Wish you continued success in all of your efforts at MarketSmart in making a difference in the nonprofit world.
    Gary Bukowski

  17. Rick says:

    Wow. That’s quite a story. Congratulations on overcoming all those challenges. I’m a very satisfied client. My thanks to you and your team for your unorthodox approach. It’s refreshing and, most important, leads to results.

  18. Ven says:

    Inspiring story Greg. I’m also impressed with the way I was led to this post via email. Simple but very effective idea!

  19. Greg, thank you for sharing your story. Authenticity makes us vulnerable yet human. Most people, unless they are jealous, are drawn to people who have struggled and overcome. You have a powerful reason on what drives your business, never let anyone or anything take that from you. We are grateful for your passion, service and commitment to making this world a better place. I am new to your resources, but from what I have seen, its impressive. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with the nonprofit sector.

  20. Ernestine Miller says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. May God continue to bless you and your family.

  21. Carolyn Lowery says:

    Yes, I had read your story a couple of years ago but re-read today. I have always admired your creative common sense approach and hope to convince a client to sign up for your help with their success.

  22. Frank Santulli/713-816-7197 cell says:

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Warner!
    I look forward to helping your company grow to new levels and very motivated to working with you on mapping out your company’s growing success!

  23. John L says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for sharing your personal story behind the story of MarketSmart. Life is messy. A good friend of mine’s mother often said, “Make you mess your message.”
    Stay strong!

  24. John Leshney says:

    Greg,
    Thank you for sharing your personal story behind the story of MarketSmart. Life is messy. A good friend of mine’s mother often said, “Make you mess your message.”
    Stay strong!

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