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Personalization and targeting: get and keep donor attention

Grace Duginski
Content marketing specialist
March 26, 2024
A Giving Day leader smiles as he reads through customer FAQs on a laptop to explore what to expect looking ahead with Bonterra Giving Days.

Whether you’re a fundraiser, a digital communications manager, or a volunteer coordinator, nonprofit staff like you always want to be sure the messages you send supporters are prompting your community to take action. Strong personalization and targeting are essential for crafting messages that persuade supporters to make a gift, sign a petition, or RSVP to a volunteer shift.

In this blog, we’ll go over a few differences between personalization for nonprofits and for-profits, how to combine two types of data for more powerful results, the risks of not using personalization or targeting practices, and a few examples of what well-personalized messages can look like. By the end, you’ll be able to use these pointers to give your supporters a stronger experience and keep them around for the long term, which ultimately helps you deliver on your mission.

Creating personalized messages and targeting the right supporters with them will only become more and more important as the nonprofit fundraising and supporter engagement landscape continues to evolve and change. You can learn more by downloading this complete guide to the future of fundraising.

The difference between personalization for nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies

It’s not news that the commercial world does personalization extremely well. Nonprofits might not think of corporations as competitors, but you might find yourself competing for your supporters’ attention with a lot of online marketers — and the corporate world has some good ones.

There’s a good chance that your supporters aren’t making a values-based commitment when they choose to buy from many for-profit companies, and yet those companies use their buyers’ identities and choices in highly personalized ways because they know it works. Going forward, nonprofits need to understand and reflect back supporters’ identities and choices as well as the commercial world understands their buyers.

Pro tip: Nonprofits need to accomplish more and more, but most don’t have the same resources as corporations. To achieve your personalization and targeting goals, look for a platform that lets you collect that personalized information and easily reflect it back to your supporters. Using data to reference your donors’ pasts with you can help you keep building relationships and raising more for your mission.

More powerful supporter targeting with two types of data

Nonprofit staff always want to ensure they’re sending the right donation ask to the right audience. That’s why it’s helpful to target audiences with both behavioral and demographic data: This helps fundraisers develop powerful, precise, and actionable insights into your audiences.

Demographic data is who a supporter is (where they live, age, marital status, education, and so on). In contrast, behavioral data is what a supporter does, and this could include where and when they:

  • Took their first action with you
  • Have taken other actions with you since then
  • Made gifts to you
  • Clicked through an email
  • Reacted to or reshared your posts on social media

Nonprofits can combine demographic and behavioral data for more focused targeting and personalization in the messages you send supporters. Put another way: More precise messaging gives supporters a better experience, which helps you to better retain them over time, which ultimately helps you raise the funds and build the base you need to make a stronger mission-driven impact.

3 risks of not using strong supporter targeting or personalization

Risk #1: Skipping over supporters who may want to hear your message

If you define an audience based only on demographic data, you could miss out on speaking with people who have taken actions indicating they want to hear from you. On the other hand, if you define your audience only by behavioral data, you might be skipping over people in demographic groups who could find certain asks compelling. Avoid missing on these opportunities by targeting your supporters along multiple data lines.

Risk #2: Relationship setbacks by making the wrong ask of the wrong people

Making the wrong ask at the wrong time of the wrong supporter can leave a sour taste and make them doubt how well you know your audience. For example:

  • You wouldn’t want to contact a longtime donor with messaging about making their first gift.
  • You probably wouldn’t text a longtime volunteer — someone who might be ready for a leadership role running their own distributed volunteer event — to ask them to attend a first-time volunteer training.
  • You wouldn’t email a major donor whose last gift was $60,000 to ask for a gift of $35.
  • You might not want to send information about your planned giving program to audiences you aren’t sure are ready for that conversation.

These out-of-sync asks can make supporters feel as though your organization doesn’t see or understand them — and it can even make them doubt how well you understand how to use it.

Risk #3: Fatiguing supporters and driving them to unsubscribe

Although fundraisers may have the technical capacity to send every message to every supporter, you don’t want to saturate their inboxes. If they feel they’re getting too many emails from you, they’re likelier to unsubscribe. If you send too many messages about topics that don’t interest your supporters or don’t feel relevant, that could also drive them to unsubscribe. Ultimately, this can hurt your progress toward your mission, since losing subscribers means you have fewer people to reach out to.

3 examples of strong personalization and targeting

Clearly, there are risks associated with not using strong personalization practices or targeting in your messages to your supporters. However, if you review your own email program and notice gaps, you’ll also probably see that there are some great opportunities to strengthen your messages. You can also take your program a step further by combining details about your supporters and information about actions they’ve taken in support of your work with updates about how their efforts have made a difference.

Pro tip: Your supporter engagement platform should help you create highly personalized messages without dramatically increasing your workload. Bonterra Fundraising and Engagement allows you to easily pull static and dynamic lists of supporters using many different criteria. Then, you can create emails for these lists of supporters and personalize them using conditional content to fill in details from their supporter records. Keeping all of your audience’s details in one single source of truth lets you make sure you’re sending the most thoughtful and accurate messages you can.

For a donor who just upgraded their gift:

Hi Steve,
Thank you for your recent extraordinary generosity. We so appreciate that last week, you were able to increase your monthly gift from $10 to $40 and support our work more than ever before. You enable our team to get more healthy meals to people right now, not just in your city of Brownsville but across the state. For every $40 donation, we’re able to supply neighbors with five additional meals per week…

Details that make this message stand out:

  • Steve’s name
  • An action he took recently (upgrading his recurring gift last week, which is behavioral data)
  • Steve’s city of residence (Brownsville, which is demographic data)
  • What his increased monthly support enables your organization to do (send more meals to people who need them, which is a piece of data you as a fundraiser or communications manager can work out with your frontline service teams so that you can accurately communicate with supporters)

For someone who regularly takes action with you:

Hi Susan,
Thank you for caring for the planet so much that you have been willing to take action with us more than a dozen times in the last six months. Most recently, your petition signatures helped us deliver a strong message to our city council in favor of a new protected bike lane on Maple Street…

Details that make this message stand out:

  • Susan’s name
  • A connection to the issue area she cares about (the planet, which is a piece of data you can determine based on which actions she’s taken with you in the past — that’s behavioral data)
  • How many times she’s taken action with you over a set period of time (behavioral data)
  • A reference to her most recent action (a petition signature, also behavioral data)
  • What that action allowed you to do (show the city council there is quantifiable support for a new protected bike lane on a specific street — knowing the city she lives in is demographic data; knowing she took action in support of this initiative is behavioral data)

For someone who volunteers regularly:

Hi Sheila,
Day in and day out, volunteers are the backbone of what we do at People for Good. We’re truly grateful for how generous you’ve been with your time — today marks six years since your first volunteer shift with us at our free and reduced cost fix-it clinic. Your dedication over the past six years has helped us make over 500 simple car repairs for neighbors who otherwise couldn’t afford them…

Details that make this message stand out:

  • Sheila’s name
  • A reference to a special occasion (the anniversary of her first volunteer shift with you — a piece of behavioral data)
  • How long she’s been taking action with you (behavioral data)
  • Where her first action was (behavioral data)
  • What her support has enabled you to achieve (making over 500 simple car repairs for neighbors, which is a piece of data you as a fundraiser or communications manager can work out with your frontline service teams so that you can accurately communicate with supporters)

If you start sending more personalized messages to your supporters, you’ll be able to tell if they’re resonating if you see higher click rates and conversions on relevant forms, along with other metrics that might make sense for you to measure.

Your next steps to use personalization

As you can see, sending personalized messages to targeted audiences helps supporters build affinity with your work and stay engaged over time by giving them a stronger experience. Your technology should support you by taking technical and repetitive tasks off your plate and letting you focus on the more creative and complex work that has to happen for your nonprofit to meet your goals and move your mission forward.

Download our guide to the future of fundraising to learn even more about how personalization and targeting can help nonprofits today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

Written by

Grace Duginski
Content marketing specialist
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing
  • Fundraising ideas