4 min Read
August 13, 2013

Are you ready to segment?

If you’re planning to do any online fundraising this year-end, now’s the time to start laying the groundwork for your segmentation strategy.

Segmenting your list is common practice in the direct mail world: you’d never send your standard acquisition package to a major donor (at least, not knowingly). But when it comes to email, a lot of nonprofits take a one-size-fits-all approach—and that means they’re missing out on some important opportunities.

Never tried segmenting your email list before? It can be pretty simple when you break it down: it’s just a matter of dividing your list into a few different sub-groups, and sending something different to each group.

So where do I start?

Here are a couple of simple ways you might segment your list for your year-end appeal messages:

Tailor your ask to previous gift size.

Split your list up into just a couple of different groups—say, for example, those who’ve given you $500 or more, those who’ve given you $200-499, and those who’ve given less than $200 (or haven’t given yet). Send each group the exact same message—but when they click through to the donation page, show each group a different gift string. The $500+ group might start at $500 and go up from there, the $200+ group at $200, and the rest get your standard string.

If you want to get extra fancy (and your CRM/donation processing system permits it), you might be able to make the gift string completely customized to the donor’s giving history (i.e., the page would display different amounts to each donor, based on the largest or most recent gift you have recorded from that person). 

Show your monthly donors a little extra love.

Split your monthly donors out from your normal list, and send them a special version of your general email appeal. Acknowledge that they’ve committed to support you in an ongoing way, and express your appreciation—and tell them that you’re hoping they’ll give you an additional gift this year-end. If possible, give them an urgent reason why they should increase their support for you.

It doesn’t have to be fancy—it could be the same message you send to everyone else with just a couple of copy tweaks. But by paying a little extra attention to your regular donors and the special relationship they have with you, you might increase their chances of making another gift. For inspiration, here’s a nice example of a special message that WNYC sent to monthly donors at the start of their spring pledge drive.

Acknowledge donors who’ve already given.

If you send out multiple appeals over the course of the year-end season, there will be some eager supporters who’ll give the very first time you ask them (love those guys!). You don’t necessarily want to suppress them from the rest of your campaign messages—they’re your most enthusiastic supporters, after all, and maybe they’ll even give again as they see how the campaign plays out.

Consider capitalizing on their enthusiasm by sending them a modified version of your next message. You might add a special note to them at the top, thanking them for their prompt gift and encouraging them to take another action (forward the message to friends, perhaps, or promote the campaign on Facebook). 

Cool. I’ll definitely come back to this when we’re ready to send emails in November.

Don’t hit the snooze button just yet! If you’re going to experiment with segmentation, there are a few things you should do now, before the madness of year-end hits:

  • Find out what your system can do. Most donor management/email systems have some features built in that support segmentation—like customizing a donation string. Spend a few hours poking around in the features overview page, or calling up a customer support representative to find out what’s available to you.
  • Make sure you know what kind of data you have. Before you know what kind of segmentation is realistic, you’ll need to know what you’re working with (and make time for a little cleanup, if it’s needed). Are the records in your database sourced (i.e., do you know whether they came from an event or a webpage or something else)? Is your donation tracking system clean and up-to-date, so that there’s a good chance your donor records are accurate (at least in terms of their online giving activity)? What kinds of reports and lists are you able to pull? 
  • Practice pulling your segmented lists, and write down all the steps involved. You’ll thank yourself in December when there isn’t a lot of time for learning new technology.

Any other tips or ideas for getting started with segmenting your email lists, or success stories from things you’ve tried in the past?