Marcy Auman, Executive Vice President  ●  7/13/2021

Overheard at the Family Picnic

heroic fundraising featured image family picnic listen to donors

Summertime, with the lifting of gathering restrictions, means family reunions, and mine was over the Fourth of July weekend.

We all appreciated the together time more than ever. Amid catching up with cousins, uncles, and aunts, there were three separate times where someone made a comment to me about the many “requests for donations” they received during the pandemic:

  • From a 75-year-old: “I’ve been volunteering with them for a long time and still did during COVID — and it bothers me that they keep mailing me appeals for donations ... they should be finding different people to ask instead.”
  • From a 64-year-old: “I give to [three nonprofits] every year and I just wish they wouldn’t keep mailing me letters asking for donations. Just wait and I’ll send your gift when I always do!”
  • From a 26-year-old: “I already donated my stimulus check to [nonprofit] online because so many people needed food, but they keep emailing and I don’t think they realize I’m not going to give all the time.”

Three separate observations may be significant in a single day when there’s so many other subjects to catch up on, but it’s reflective of what we know to be true: Giving is “trending.”

In each case, I had the chance to ask questions and get perspectives. Not shockingly new perspectives — but a good reminder of something we probably already know.

Fundraisers like us must, of course, try to convert/renew these supporters, and data proves that repeated appeals to do so work. But if we want it to work BETTER, we should show them that we see these donors as individuals.

Direct-response fundraising might have been designed for reaching the masses, but technology can make it targeted and individualized.

For Major Gift donors, it’s common to prepare an individualized case for support based on their history, interest areas, motivations, and capacity to give. With today’s unprecedented access to data, and the application of artificial intelligence (AI), the same type of strategy can be applied to direct-response donors.

At TrueSense, we try to ask donors for their preferences at least once a year. When that data becomes available, we use it to tailor certain special touches to them, reflecting interest areas, frequency of contacts, intentionality around legacy giving, and other categories, among many other qualifiers.

Of course, not all donors respond. In those cases, we can “listen” to donors through their giving behaviors. AI donor “scoring” allows us to recognize and select at the individual donor level. For instance:

  • Volunteers can be called out and appreciated as volunteers within their appeals, and given a “break” in appeals after a period of nonresponse.
  • Donors who have only ever given in Q4 are easily recognizable and can be withheld from a portion of appeals outside that time.
  • Many younger, first-time online donors during COVID may go unresponsive to renewal appeals, and by pivoting to affirmation and activation ads/messaging instead, you’ll build engagement that leads to nonemergency giving over time.

These are just a few examples of segmenting and versioning at the individual donor level, but the possibilities go way beyond this to consider infinite combinations of variables by individual ... and way beyond the limits of simple Recency, Frequency, Monetary segmentation. That’s because donors are not RFM lifecycles; they are individuals. My conversation with an aunt who retired and has traveled the world was definitely different than the one I had with a second cousin who is trying to make ends meet as a musician while going to college as a backup plan.

Bottom line: When it comes to donors (and relatives), we have the chance to “listen.” We can listen to what they say, and observe what they do. When we follow up with them in a way that shows that we listened, we show that we value them — and we get greater value in return.


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