The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Why Are You Sending Me This Email?!? A Lesson in Donor Segmentation

I’m a monthly donor to a nonprofit I love a lot. They use a membership model to boost monthly giving. However, I noticed that during their seasonal membership drives, I continued to get emails asking me to become a member.

At first I ignored this, thinking maybe they incorrectly segmented their list. Then, when I got a second appeal email a few months later, I thought maybe my membership had lapsed. I checked, but no, I found the receipt for the gift I made the previous month. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

I reached out to the organization on Twitter to ask why I was getting emails asking me to become a member when I am already a member. They apologized and began investigating which emails I might have received. They came back with the news that it didn’t look like I had received any emails by accident, and then asked me to share those emails with them to help solve the issue. I gladly took screenshots of the emails I had received. As I was in the process of sharing them with the nonprofit’s donor relations associate, I noticed one line of text that I had previously missed.

The call to action in this email was a hyperlinked sentence reading something like this: “Click here to become a member, increase your monthly gift, or donate.” Um, what? The entire email (including the header image) had language that asked me to generally “support the membership drive.” I blew right past the rest of the email because the first message I saw didn’t apply to me. I was already a member. I must have received this by mistake.

donor segmentation confusing quote

Along with the email screenshots, I sent a suggestion: It would have made much more sense if you had used smart donor segmentation and sent three separate emails to the three groups of people you are targeting with this one email. Why send one confusing message to everyone in your database when you have the power to send three targeted emails?

I recommended:

  • One email to nondonors—email list subscribers, I suppose—who haven’t yet given a gift.
  • One to lapsed donors asking them to renew.
  • One to current members asking them to increase their monthly gift.

By using donor segmentation the list and choosing extremely clear, appropriate calls to action to target each group, I’m sure this organization would have received a larger response to their season appeal.

I received a big thanks (and another apology) from the nonprofit’s VP of development. I made it clear that I wasn’t a whiny, fussy, mad donor (although these folks do exist—and please listen to their feedback, but don’t take it personally). I truly wanted to see this organization grow and raise more money with better seasonal appeals. The VP asked if she could contact me again to get feedback on their next appeal and recommendations on how they can better segment and target their donor base with appropriate messages and calls to action. (Of course I said yes!)

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case. I get confusing emails from nonprofits all the time. Don’t let your emails fall into this dazed and confused state! Here are some steps you can take to ensure you don’t confuse your donors:

  1. Invest in smart donor management software to help you easily keep track of donors’ gifts, communication history, and more.
  2. Make an audit of your emails on a seasonal basis. Make sure donation receipts, thank you emails, appeals, newsletters, etc., truly speak to the audiences receiving them. Survey your donors and ask what they think of your communication.
  3. Segment your email audiences and provide relevant content. In my example here, the information most relevant to me as a current donor would be the steps to increase a monthly gift.
  4. Don’t stick with one method forever. Test how you segment your donor database, and test different content. You won’t know what resonates most with your donors unless you try something new and measure it.

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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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