You Don’t Need Data, You Need Actionable Intelligence

You have plenty of data.

That data probably includes donation recency, frequency, and monetary value. You might also track involvement information (participation in events, volunteerism, board leadership) and interaction information (notes from discussions collected during donor calls and visits).

Here’s what you really need.

Although all of that data can help you understand your supporters to a certain extent, none of it is truly actionable. What you really want is actionable intelligence – information that can help you focus your activities and costs on the people who will most likely make the greatest financial impact the soonest.

Engagement fundraisers collect actionable information from two data points: verbatims and digital body language. Verbatims are what your supporters say. Digital body language is what they do (online).

So what’s the problem?

Most major gift fundraisers are still using archaic, time-consuming, and expensive strategies to collect verbatims. They call or email supporters to begin the “coming together” stage of the relationship. But getting the attention of your high-value supporters is no easy task. In fact, according to Jerold Panas, author of the top-selling fundraising book Mega Gifts, “It is a plain fact of fundraising that it’s often far more difficult to get an appointment than the gift.” Just because they’ve donated in the past doesn’t guarantee they want a deeper relationship with a fundraiser or the mission they represent.

Nonetheless, if the fundraiser gets the chance to meet with a supporter, they’ll build rapport and attempt to conduct a “donor discovery” by asking questions designed to help get to know, understand, and qualify the prospect. Conducting one-to-one donor discovery discussions are tremendously effective if you have the time and the staff available to secure and conduct them.

There is another way to conduct donor discovery.

Engagement fundraisers save massive amounts of time and money by leveraging technology to collect actionable intelligence using donor discovery surveys.

Effective donor surveys capture verbatims by asking supporters about their needs, wants, interests, and desires using convenient channels including digital (email or online), print (usually direct mail), or telephone. Donors prefer to begin the relationship this way thanks to its arm’s-length nature. Fundraisers prefer them because they’re low-cost, low-effort self-qualifiers that attract the most passionate supporters who respond to them to get involved and provide their personal feedback.

It’s a very efficient system, but it’s not always perfect.

For instance, there’s a problem with verbatims: what donors say isn’t always true. For example, there have been many cases when supporters said they would never make a legacy gift to an organization. Yet, years later, those same supporters actually do make a legacy gift. Apparently, they wanted to keep that information to themselves. That’s why it’s important to collect the other data point: digital body language.

You need truth serum!

Digital body language is the truth serum that helps fundraisers capture the rest of the story (360-degree insights) by monitoring what supporters do online. MarketSmart first pioneered the use of digital tracking cookies for the purpose of monitoring donor behaviors online in 2009.

Digital body language is powerful information. Even better, it’s easy to collect at a low cost and can help you improve your effectiveness dramatically when it’s measured and evaluated. Over time, you can monitor clicks, time on site, and the frequency of each of your supporter’s engagements on web pages or social media. Smart fundraisers use this information to spot trends so they can study donor personas and develop highly engaging offers that appeal to small sets of extremely wealthy and highly passionate supporter segments. Even smarter fundraisers use it to generate leads and qualify them.

The monitoring of digital body language can also enable instant value creation for donors in real time. Thanks to the dynamic nature of web pages, your donor’s clicks and click histories can be used to instantly and seamlessly serve up highly relevant emotional or informative online content that reflects each individual’s unique interests. Isn’t that the kind of VIP experience major donors deserve?

Recency trumps almost every other data point.

For the fundraiser, the recency of each individual donor’s engagements provides signals as to when they might be most likely to accept outreach. Our clients, for instance, monitor their dashboards to see which supporters are “hot.” The dashboard is a customized online tool that consolidates and arranges results so the client can monitor verbatims and digital body language. Then they call, email, or even message potential donors on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn using highly personalized, relevant, and contextual communications that make their supporters feel good because they were heard and respected.

Fundraisers tell us the difference before and after using these queues for outreach is like night and day because now they don’t have to interrupt donors to talk to them about giving. Now, when they reach out, the donors feel that the timing is terrific. It feels more natural and helpful instead of bothersome and disruptive. It feels like outstanding customer service.


Reaching out at the right time, when donors are ready for their desire to be converted to action, makes all the difference. The seamlessness of the process results in larger donations, and the organization saves time and money.

Verbatims and digital body language provide for low-cost and highly effective digital feedback loops. They speed up the donor discovery process and make it more measurable so it can be analyzed and improved. The future of cost-efficient, donor-centric fundraising depends on this kind of actionable intelligence.

The best fundraisers aren’t asking themselves whether or not they’ll employ it. Rather, they’re asking themselves when.


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5 years ago

You guys are really smart and provide a tremendous value service. So far I have not been in a vendor decision position but I eagerly tell others about your solutions and look forward to the day where I use it or provide it!

Christopher J Doyle
Christopher J Doyle
5 years ago

Greg, you make some good points. But it is often said, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck”. So, your title might have been more appropriately named, “You don’t need big data, you need the right data.” Because what you proposed is to collect data, but just a different kind. However, I don’t like for consultants to propagate “short cuts” to major donor fundraising. It is all about building relationships and that takes time and effort. There are not short cuts. And, a lot of our potential major donors are not on-line, at least not to the extent you surmise. We would get that kind of data out of very few people. And who has the time to manage all that digital data gathering in a way that makes sense and is “actionable” as you say. Data in and of itself is never actionable. But what it tells us can be converted into action. Donor frequency is data. If it is too low, then the action to take is a strategy and some tactics that will increase frequency, like starting a monthly giving program. The fact that a donor spends 6 hours a day on your website might say he/she is interested. Or it might not. You still do not know if they want a relationship that will lead to a major gift.

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