Written by Jeff Shuck for Event 360’s excellent blog, and reprinted with permission from Event 360.

It’s January. The frenzy of your year-end appeal has subsided and you’re now busy tallying your results, comparing year-to-year performance, and plotting your next moves. Before you take your next step, it’s important to remember that these new and repeat donors present an opportunity to start building more meaningful connections with an engaged group of people who have just raised their hand. They’ve raised their hand to voice their support for your mission through their donation.

This particular donor list is probably a mixed bag of long-time loyal constituents, inspired first-time event participants and their donors, returning lost donors, people who have just been touched by your cause, and a whole assortment of others. Your communications strategy should acknowledge that each of these groups has a different reason for pledging their support. Market segmentation is an effective tool to talk to each of these groups in a way that will resonate with their giving motivations.

In market segmentation, you evaluate your overall donor and constituent base and separate them into smaller groups based on similar characteristics. Once you have your groups (or segments), you then speak differently to each one, based upon their specific needs and reasons for supporting your organization. By tailoring your messages to their unique motivations, you can develop a more meaningful connection between your organization and your supporters. With most online fundraising and communications tools, you have the ability to easily group people together and send specific messages based on what you know about them. Talking to people in a personal and relevant way can increase the value of your messages for the recipients and keep your messages from being ignored. Applying your constituent knowledge to your online communications strategy through segmentation can be the foundation for stronger donor relationships and ultimately, more fundraising dollars towards achieving your organization’s mission. Segmentation can vary from simple to sophisticated. Event 360 recommends starting with what you already know and build from there.

Simple Strategies

Simple segmentation focuses on descriptive segments, such as demographics and donor history, and tailors your communication based on what you already know about that person. You’ve been collecting this information already, but you may not have utilized it to create more personal connections with your donors. For example:

  • Address information tells you where they live. There is a lot you can do with that little piece of information. You can send them specific messages about events happening in their local community. The language that you use can point to this knowledge: “Our renowned Foundation researcher, Dr. Smith, is signing her latest book at the Borders right in your backyard.”
  • Gift information helps you understand how frequently they donate or what specific projects they support. Donors like to know that their individual efforts are making a difference. Rather than focusing on your organization’s pre-determined recognition levels, send these people specific messages based on their donation levels or about specific progress on the projects that they care about. For example: “Jane, did you know that the $187 dollars you raised last week for the Walk will buy seven bags of groceries for hungry families this week? Thanks for your effort.”
  • You may also have access to information such as birthdate, gender, or marital status as part of your existing data collection. Use this information creatively. You may have an existing special occasion donation program, but you haven’t figured out how to publicize it. If a donor is celebrating a milestone birthday, a month before their big day, send them an e-mail suggesting gifts to your organization in lieu of presents. And always make sure to celebrate them on the actual day as well! With the automation in most e-mail systems now, you can trigger these reminders to personalize and go out automatically.

As you implement simple segmentation strategies, don’t be afraid to test different messaging within the same group of people to see what gets the strongest response. If your organization supports different types of community programming, perhaps you test a different message to see if that elicits a greater click-through rate or increases the amount of interaction with your website. Using the example above, you could try saying: “Jane, did you know that the $187 dollars you raised last week for the Walk will support 3 hours of classroom programs about healthy eating choices? Thanks for your effort!” Remember, keep your segments straightforward. Aim for at least two as you begin this process and don’t try to get too specific until you have stronger data and a better understanding of your database.

Sophisticated strategies

As segmentation becomes part of your standard communication strategies, you’ll want to enhance your segmentation strategy by building your database — not by just adding more people, but collecting richer data about the people you are interacting with. The data collection is simple: all you have to do is ask.Add a question or two to online event registration forms or donation forms that will help you better understand their giving motivations. A standard question on every form, such as, “What is your connection to the cause?” gives you an important insight on how to best tailor messages to a supporter. Just make sure that you give people a standard list of options, so that you can more easily tabulate the data, identify groups, and utilize this information as part of your communication strategies.A more sophisticated segmentation strategy also means taking donor and participant behavior into consideration, because past behavior is one of the best predictors for future actions and behavior. Utilize the tools available to you through your online communications systems or event management tools to track this important data. Consider things such as:

  • How frequently are they donating or participating? How much are they donating or collecting from others as donations?
  • How soon after an ask do they donate or sign up for an event? How many asks does it take to get them to act?
  • How far in advance of an event do they sign up?
  • What events are they participating in?
  • Are they bringing friends? Are their friends donating?

Start collecting this information in a standardized way, so that you can begin measuring and evaluating your constituents’ actions. This is not an exhaustive list of the things you can measure, nor is it the appropriate list for every organization. You will need to take a look at your own fundraising revenue streams and determine what actions may be good predictors for your specific situation. The key is to select behaviors that are trackable. Once you are armed with all of this information — basic demographics and lifestyle facts, an understanding of preferences and opinions, and knowledge about how your constituents have behaved in the past –you are ready for the next step. Statistical analysis can be used at this stage to help determine if there are demographics or specific actions that are strong predictors of future behavior (e.g. major donors) and tailor your messages accordingly. In essence, you can use this wealth of data to determine how to talk to your constituents before they’ve taken any actions and lead them down specific paths of action in support of your organization.

Come next January, you’ll be talking to your donors in a whole new way.