Marketing Trail Guide for More Personalized Communications

Each individual’s relationship with a nonprofit is personal, based on their unique experience with the organization. A single person may donate at different levels depending on the nonprofit they support, not just their income. People volunteer, subscribe, attend events, become members, and seek services for different reasons. A few questions […]

Each individual’s relationship with a nonprofit is personal, based on their unique experience with the organization. A single person may donate at different levels depending on the nonprofit they support, not just their income. People volunteer, subscribe, attend events, become members, and seek services for different reasons.

A few questions to ask yourselves: Do you know what motivates people in each of these critical moments? Are you recognizing a person’s dynamic relationship, previous experiences, preferences, passion, and where they are on their journey with your organization?

Our ability to personalize both online and offline experiences is only as good as the data we collect. In the latest State of Nonprofit Marketing Report, a global survey of nonprofit marketers, 71% say their engagement is data-driven, but only 33% are completely satisfied with their ability to use data to create more relevant experiences.

This opportunity for better personalization showed up again in a survey of thousands of volunteers, donors, and beneficiaries. When asked to respond to the statement “The communications I received from the nonprofit were personalized for me,” only 33.6% agreed, and just 6.4% agreed strongly.

This presents an opportunity for marketers to better recognize each personal relationship in our communications, to drive better experiences and outcomes. In our first of a two-part Trail Guide Webinar Series, Bonnie Beauchamp from Atlanta Mission shared how personalization helped them achieve 159% growth with digital donors, while significantly reducing the time required to launch a campaign.

We covered the first three of six steps to more personalized communications in this webinar, and will follow up in January 2022 with a webinar covering the remaining topics. For each stop on the trail, we outline tips, best practices, and examples from Atlanta Mission.

The six steps on your journey to creating more personalized communications.

1) Understand Key Moments

The easiest place to start is to define moments that constituents might experience. Moments are critical points of time when a person demonstrates intent or has a particular need related to your organization.

Moments might include a first-time donation, visiting your website, volunteering for a shift, or sharing a social post. Big or small, each of these interactions is an opportunity to understand your supporter’s motivation to take the action, define the outcome you want from that moment, and the next best action for your constituent to take. Resist the urge to string these moments together linearly – people can enter moments via many paths.

Here’s an example moment of a supporter sharing a social post:

Infographic image showing questions to ask for the outcomes you want
Three questions to ask around the moments, actions, and outcomes you want your supporters to have when they engage with your organization.

Moments are not just a marketing activity, and they aren’t just digital. Bring everyone across your organization together, including fundraising teams, programs, board members, and other stakeholders, and have them provide context into the moments that matter.

How do you define these moments? How many should you start with? That depends how much time you have, but prioritizing based on staff feedback and your data is a great way to start.

“If we see a spike in engagement, we’re going to dig into that, look at the data, and begin to prioritize what led to the increase to keep our story relevant to our constituents. We know lifetime engagement goes up if a constituent is engaged in multiple ways” – Bonnie Beauchamp, Atlanta Mission

Image showing an example from Atlanta Mission’s champion series
Atlanta Mission personalizes their follow-up based on how supporters respond to a CSAT survey question.

2) Define Personas and Messaging

The first step in knowing your audience is to get direct feedback from them to better understand the data you already have. If you don’t have the budget for a research agency, start with a survey connected to your CRM data to deepen your understanding of each individual. Here are some sample survey questions from Atlanta Mission:

Graphic showing sample survey questions
Sample survey questions that cover supporter demographics, interests, relationship to your organization, and communication preferences.

“Communication format preferences are especially important as you want to reach people where they are and where they want to be. Cadence, personalization, and messaging look and feel – picking images, side by side, with emails and social posts and asking supporters to pick which they prefer, which they connected with best.” — Bonnie Beauchamp, Atlanta Mission

Personas are groups of similar people with shared needs and goals. If you can understand these groups, you can target them, because you know they will generally act, think, and respond to things in similar ways.

With this knowledge, ​​bring colleagues together to work on personas. These are fictional characters designed to represent groups of people with similar needs, values, and passions, built through Step 1 and your knowledge of your community.

See below for a part of one of Atlanta Mission’s example personas:

Graphic showing an example persona for urban influencers
An example persona, which organizations can create to understand different groups of supporters and personalize communications based on their motivations.

Note: Watch out for bias when creating your survey, personas, and messaging. Here’s a recent related post about embedding DE&I strategies for Fundraising Success. Also, don’t just create personas based on giving history or services received. Relying on just one attribute of past engagement doesn’t help you understand what motivates people to take future action.

3) Segment and Personalize Communications

Segmentation helps you identify different groups within your community to help you target individual messages or pieces of content for a given goal or activity. You can segment by personas, but also specific attributes, or previous moments.

After you’ve figured out your target segment(s) for a specific campaign goal, the data you’ve collected can help you personalize messaging. You can personalize words or numbers, or dynamically create entire pieces of content or images based on the data in your CRM and Marketing systems. Atlanta Mission uses donation allocations to share stories of people who went through those programs, with rolled-up giving and impact data at their six-month anniversary.

Graphic showing monthly impact of Atlanta Mission’s gratitude series
Atlanta Mission’s Gratitude series keeps a regular cadence of engagement with their supporters, with different messaging and images based on personas and segments.

Tech Tip! Operationalizing Marketing

“Create a culture of testing on your team, where you are testing in 100% of your campaigns. A/B testing a subject line, for example, is not just about getting a better open rate. What is actually more beneficial in the long term is learning more about your constituents with every marketing action you take.” — Justin Piehowski

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground here. On your journey to better personalization, start by watching The Trail Guide webinar recording, where you can also download resources and templates before our next webinar in January on using automations to scale, creating journeys based on segments, and test and grow channels.

Until then, we wish you a very successful Giving Season!

About the Author

Jarrett O’Brien, Director of Product Marketing
Jarrett O’Brien
Director of Product Marketing at
Jarrett is passionate about helping nonprofits build capacity and further their mission with technology. As Product Marketing Director, he focuses on Marketing & Engagement along with Fundraising solutions at Jarrett’s background is in marketing, consulting, and business development with software companies and nonprofits over the last 20 years. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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