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Focus your non-profit’s audience segmentation on relationships to deepen engagement

People are hard-wired for individualized, meaningful connection. Use relationship factors in your non-profit's audience segmentation to personalize your messaging and create thoughtful conversations with your audience.

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It may be tempting to just send all your communications out to one giant list of contacts and hope your messaging resonates with some of the recipients. Unfortunately, when people receive generalized messaging that feels irrelevant or tone-deaf, they’re likely to either ignore your organization’s efforts or worse, be annoyed by them.

This is why effective audience segmentation is so valuable. Targeted messaging makes people feel heard, understood and appreciated. It also performs better. According to a Mailchimp report, segmented email campaigns see 100.95% higher clickthrough rates as compared to non-segmented email campaigns.

Organizations traditionally segment their audiences based on who people are — e.g. age, gender expression, profession or geographic location. These factors can be helpful, but used alone they often lead to segments and personas based on assumptions rather than real insight. For more meaningful engagement, segment and personalize messaging based on how audience members relate with your organization.

Even with basic donor management software, it’s likely you have more powerful data at your fingertips than you realize. What does your data say about how each audience member thinks and connects with you? What does it feel like for them to support your mission? How does their activity (or lack thereof!) signal what’s important to them?

Start by creating segments based on these relationship cues. Then look at how you can combine and intersect these segments to create windows into these people’s perspectives. Put yourself in their shoes. Shape your messaging to resonate with these perspectives to cultivate deeper commitment.

What relationship cues can you use to segment your audience? Here are 11 ideas to get you started:

1. Role

Donors, board members, corporate sponsors, volunteers and staff show their support and interact in different ways with your organization. For this reason, they should all be receiving different messaging. Board members may want behind the scenes information on your fundraising efforts. Sponsors might need assurance that your events will bring them exposure. Volunteers could be looking for logistical, process or instructional information. Ideally, you’ll have audience members who exist in multiple roles. We hope your board members are also donors!

2. Source

It’s important to track where your supporters come from and tailor messages accordingly. If a specific campaign motivated someone to donate, you may want to provide them with updates on how that campaign is going and its impact. If a beneficiary’s story moved a donor to give, you could share similar stories with them in the future. If a donor was attracted through a specific webinar or event, be sure to provide them with information on that event and invite them to similar ones.

3. Position in the engagement journey

Are there people in your audience who’ve just signed up for your newsletter but haven’t attended an event or donated yet? You’ll want to talk with them differently than those who have donated a few times, or people who have been reliable supporters for years.

4. Gift amount

Donors of all giving amounts should be valued and nurtured. But a donor who gives $5 has a different perspective and therefore will respond to a different conversation than a donor giving $5,000. For those on the lower end of the scale, emphasize that any sized donation can make an impact and make those donations seem easily within reach, e.g. “For the price of a cup of coffee, you can make a difference.” For those who donate larger amounts, provide specific examples of their impact, e.g. “Your gift provided 800 meals to underserved children last year.”

5. First-time donors

A fundraising study revealed that only 19% of first-time donors are retained vs. 63% of returning donors. Low donor retention rates are a big reason to target those first-time donors specifically. Thank them often and provide them with engaging, supportive and inspirational messaging to build an ongoing relationship.

6. Recency and frequency

A donor’s last gift amount isn’t the only factor in your relationship. Consider how often they donate. Someone who donates $1,000 to your organization once a year is as impactful as someone who donates $250 four times a year. Also look at recency: was their last gift two months ago, or two years ago? Use recency, frequency and gift amount to adjust your messaging. Current donors need continued conversation to stay engaged. For lapsed donors, focus on a reconnection message to update them on your current activities and bring them back.

7. Relationship length

Dedicated donors, volunteers, sponsors, staff and board members who have been with your organization for a long time are the lifeblood of any nonprofit. Show your appreciation by tracking relationship length and marking significant anniversaries with a note, email or a shout out on social media. Think about how you can keep your messaging fresh to these folks who’ve heard it all before.

8. Indicated interests

Email campaigns segmented by user interest see 74.53% higher click rates as compared to non-segmented campaigns. Your donors’ online behavior can indicate their interests as they click on specific web pages or email links, engage with social media posts, etc. You can also simply ask them where their interests lie when collecting their contact information or in an occasional survey. Once you know their interests, be sure to send them only relevant content and remove them from lists delivering content that they’re not interested in.

9. Non-cash engagement patterns

How are they engaging with your organization in ways that don’t involve cash gifts? Do they attend your webinars or events? How do they engage with you on social media, click on your emails or interact with your website?

10. Volunteering activity

If your organization has a large team of volunteers, make sure they only get content that’s relevant to them. Don’t send your Atlanta volunteers emails about weekend volunteer opportunities in Seattle. Segment your volunteer lists by criteria such as location, type of volunteering activity they prefer, how many hours per week or month they can volunteer, and how long they have been volunteering for your organization.

11. Preferred communication method / frequency

Last but not least—one of the easiest and most important ways to segment your audience is to ask them how, and how often, they’d like to be contacted. Give recipients of your communications a way to indicate their preferences (e.g. customize email preferences) and be sure to honor their wishes. If someone indicates that they only want to receive an email four times a year, you should determine which four emails will include those recipients and plan for when they will go out.

Creative intersections can amplify results

You can use these data types individually to create simple messaging distinctions based on one factor alone. For example, you could create campaigns tailored only to first-time donors (#5 above) or only to lapsed donors (#6 above).

You can also combine data types to create insightful cross-sections. Consider building a matrix grid to map out the results of intersections of different kinds of relationship cues. For example, combining “Role” (#1 above) with “Relationship Length” (#7 above) could yield a list of long-term volunteers who’ve “seen it all” and might need to see your impact and achievements presented in new ways to keep the connection strong. This group may also have deep, practical experience with your internal operations and be willing to contribute suggestions and time to support you on that front — if you ask.

Tailoring segments of your conversations in this way makes people feel seen. It shows you value the special way they connect with your organization and encourages them to do more. 

Ready to start segmenting?

How can you combine these segmentation groups to develop more insightful conversations with your audience? Be creative and flex your empathy muscles! If you need help, we’re here — let’s chat!

Photo by Fatih via Unsplash

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