Advancement Blog

How to personalize fundraising communications in the Amazon era

by Jeff Martin

We live in the Amazon era. People have grown to expect a highly personalized "user experience" from the organizations they engage with. Like it or not, this also extends to the nonprofits they support.

With overall giving on the decline and the volume of tax-exempt charitable organizations at an all-time high, it’s crucial for colleges and universities to keep up with the competition. To do so, many advancement teams strive to create personalized campaigns for each prospective donor.

Their efforts have brought great advances in the field of annual giving segmentation. EAB’s research has turned up a variety of approaches to segmentation strategy, from affinity-based outreach to customized communications that are "triggered" by digital microbehaviors.

How advancement teams identify an audience’s interests

While most advancement shops still segment primarily by giving history (e.g., lybunt, sybunt, non-donor), affinity is playing a greater role within those segments. For example, when MIT sought to develop a digital micro-campaign for non-donor alumni, they started with an analysis of Facebook data to determine what non-donors engaged with. They followed that up with a targeted appeal for the topic that resonated most with them—robotics.

Some advancement teams are thinking even more holistically about how to connect alumni to a cause. For instance, Texas Christian University and UCLA both ensure that prospective donors are seeing something that speaks to their specific, unique interests. They do so by asking campus partners to send personalized emails and revamping the website to spotlight causes.

Make use of microbehaviors

"Microbehaviors" are also growing in importance in segmentation strategies. Microbehaviors are the tiny actions people take online—e.g., opening an email, clicking through to a web page, starting to fill out a form but not completing it.

At most institutions, microbehaviors go wholly overlooked for donor targeting. The University of Miami is an exception to that rule. The advancement team at Miami used open rate data to target follow-up to donors who clicked on the first of a series of emails, thereby ensuring that they avoided bombarding uninterested alumni with communications. Dickinson College also uses microbehaviors to target outreach by sending follow-up emails to prospective donors within 48 hours of them visiting the giving page without giving.

Avoid the dreaded spam folder with email segmentation

Use generational segmentation to connect donors to a cause

Generational concerns also play a big role in segmentation today. Young alumni campaigns, in particular, continue to grow in importance in higher education. For example, William & Mary’s young-alumni focused monthly giving campaign didn’t just include messaging that would resonate with young alumni. It also tailored the ask to a type of giving that would hit home with the targeted generation (in this case, small gifts given in a recurring fashion over an extended period of time).

Is marketing automation the key to scaling segmentation efforts?

Many of these segmentation solutions involve a lot of manual labor. But not for long: The advancement communications field as a whole is moving toward greater automation in the years to come thanks to the rise of marketing automation platforms.

Marketing automation is a category of software that streamlines and automates marketing tasks and workflows, including personalization based on interests, microbehaviors, and demographics. Intriguingly, many marketing automation platforms can add another segmentation variable into the mix—preferred channel. Automated behavior-triggered outreach features have grown more common and will increasingly disrupt traditional segmentation efforts and spur innovations.

Make your engagement efforts count

Download this road map for your guide to facilitating high-impact alumni engagement, through digital programming and targeted volunteer opportunities.

Read the Research


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