June 6, 2016  |  Team Bloom

How to Create Relevance to Appeal to Different Donors

Nonprofits spend a large amount of resources appealing to new donors and retaining those who have previously given. However, the messaging strategy used to communicate with various audience types often relies on generalizations and assumptions of donor behavior and motivation. These one-sided conversations can be costly.

Identify the Why

An important question must be asked internally as well as to those individuals volunteering their external support – Why? Many nonprofits don’t know why their donors donate. Assumptions are made on their behalf, yet simply having the conversation can increase engagement and help the donors feel valued and heard. The article How to be Relevant to Donors provided an example of how valuable these conversations are: “One health charity quadrupled telephone income simply by opening the call with a question to identify each supporter’s connection to the cause. Fundraisers routed the call based on the supporter’s experience, rather than an organizationally pre-determined one.”

Quality, Not Quantity

Witty phrases and eye-catching photography don’t compensate for relevance. If the messaging is spread as a generic blanket over all audience categories, it is unlikely to pull at heartstrings and therefore unlikely to be fruitful. The Key for More Effective Donor Communication emphasized, “Generic messages are not just typically boring; studies have shown that vague statements can introduce skepticism among readers. Definitely not the feeling you want to evoke!” Not only are marketing dollars wasted, it could potentially hurt the cause by demonstrating an overall lack of interest and understanding.

The approach to avoid generic messaging is to segment audience types. This can be done by tracking donors in a CRM setting and maintaining data on each person. Since most business development strategies are centered around donation amount, this is often the go-to segment identifier. Abila’s Donor Engagement Study identified the top frequently used segments :

Image Source: Abila Donor Engagement Study

Image Source: Abila Donor Engagement Study


Individually, each category will not uncover the whole story behind a donor’s “why”. Multiple factors have lead to large one-time donations and variation of the similar factors have inspired frequent small donations. Analyzing multiple data points can paint a clearer picture of the appropriate messaging, leading more successful responses.

Abila’s study speaks to that point: “Using one data point to target many donors widens the gap between the donors’ expectations and the organization, and creates an environment where organizations rely on the volume of communication to drive conversion and donation rates, rather than targeted communication that can generate a higher return. Donors are telling organizations their preferences of channel, their interests and content preferences, and even the time of year and type of campaign they prefer to support. Using those multiple data points to target the individual donor will improve the donor experience, increase engagement and retention, and accelerate and increase giving – matching the experience they have with other entities in their daily lives.”

Make It Personal

Now that the audience is segmented, it’s easier to show donors how they’re personally recognized and valued. It could be as simple as using their name in the direct mail piece. However, the more effort put forth in displaying the organization’s understanding of their donors, the more beneficial the campaign and more engaged the audience will be in the cause. Personally thank them for their unique interest within the cause and previous contributions to the organization.

Remember, this needs to be a two-sided conversation. Not only is the donor recognized as an individual, there needs to be an internal person on the other side of that communication that evokes appreciation and warmth. This can be done by ensuring the note is from an identified team member, not a generic email or organization name. Additionally, the nonprofit’s employees should be shown as real, approachable people. A tip from 5 Ways to Get Personal and Get Relevant is to feature them on the website with photos and bios explaining why they’re passionate about the organization and its cause. Donors relating to team members’ “why” can further the bond and encourage retention.

Because, Retention

Donors play an essential role in the future of every nonprofit, so knowing their opinion matters. Investing in market research to listen to current donors and implementing exit polls for those that drop off can result in more effective communication and potentially improve the organization as a whole. In Donor Retention: What Do We Know & What Can We Do about It?, investing in retention is a clear choice: “It typically costs around five times as much to solicit a new customer as it does to do business with an existing one. Acquisition costs through direct forms of marketing are high. This is particularly the case in the context of fundraising, where it typically costs nonprofits two to three times more to recruit a donor than a donor will give by way of a first donation. It can take twelve to eighteen months before a donor relationship becomes profitable.”

So make the most of the organization’s marketing budget by nurturing the connections with those who have supported in the past. If done correctly, highly engaged donors will become advocates and spread the cause through word-of-mouth. When individuals are passionate enough to give of themselves through volunteering or donation, nonprofits can greatly benefit from investing in understanding and nurturing their enthusiasm.

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