4 min Read
October 17, 2016

How to segment your email list, and why

Big Duck

It feels like it was yesterday when I wrote a post for this blog titled “It’s August. Time to start planning for year end!” Now it’s October, and it’s time to dive in and iron out the important details of your campaign strategy.

One of the most important of those details is segmentation—how to break down your supporter list into distinct groups based on…well, we’ll get to that in a minute. While the cost of direct mail tends to force nonprofits to think closely about how they segment donors offline, too many nonprofits are still emailing the same content to their full list or based on very simple categories (e.g., donors vs. nondonors).

Given the expectation most people have for personalized content online, not to mention all the evidence out there from the ecommerce world showing how personalization drives revenue, segmentation is an essential element of any successful online fundraising strategy. But because more segmentation also means a higher burden on staff time, it’s important to carefully consider what you can handle and understand how different segmentation strategies can benefit your fundraising program.

Here are three segmentation strategies to consider implementing for your year-end campaign:

1. By giving history

By separating donors from nondonors, you will be able to tell your donors just how important they are, a key tactic for driving loyalty and increasing donor retention.

But taking a more granular approach to segmenting by giving history can have a much more immediate impact, driving more and higher levels of giving this holiday season. By analyzing the levels your donors tend to give at, you can organize donors into low-, mid-, and high-level groups and provide them with appropriate gift strings. For example, if you find that a third of your donors give between $250 and $1,000, you will encourage more donors to maintain or increase their giving levels by presenting them with a gift string that starts at $250. If your CRM allows, you could even present each donor with a gift string that dynamically populates based on their individual giving history.

Another important benefit of giving-history segmentation is the ability to break out active donors (typically defined as constituents whose last gift was within the past 36 months) from lapsed donors. Lapsed donors should generally receive gift strings that set the bar for re-entry into the active donor pool at relatively low values. But targeted messaging to this group can also provide an immediate bump to your campaign. Generally donors who stopped giving for more than three years have disengaged from your cause to a certain degree, and may need an even harder push than someone who just hasn’t made the decision to make their first gift yet. Sending lapsed donors subject lines along the lines of “We haven’t heard from you in a while” or even “Do you still care about our cause?” will drive higher unsubscribe rates–but it will also get the attention you need to re-engage lapsed supporters and drive more donations.

2. By relationship

Depending on the data your organization has, you can segment your list based on constituents’ relationships to your nonprofit (e.g., donor, volunteer, advocate, program participant) or by their relationships to your cause (e.g., parents of a child with a rare disease vs. friends of families affected by that disease).  

Segmenting by relationship is a longer term strategy—not that many supporters are going to give today just because you refer to their volunteer activity or address them as a caregiver. But it has been clearly shown in ecommerce that consistently communicating to constituents based on their shopping and browsing history helps to drive sales and foster longer customer relationships. Over time, regularly acknowledging your constituents’ relationships to your nonprofit or cause will help your supporters see themselves in your work, understand that you value and know something about their personal experience—and build the loyalty and appreciation needed to generate gifts and increase your donors’ lifetime value.

3. By interest

Not everyone joins your list or donates because they are inspired by your overall mission. Sometimes people donate to a food bank because they care about disadvantaged children, not because hunger is their issue, or to an education nonprofit specifically because they are passionate about arts education.

If you take all of these supporters and send them the same messages, which often won’t touch on or give enough prominence to the issues they care about, you risk losing relevance—and dollars.

Like segmentation by relationship, interest segmentation—based on initiatives constituents gave to or signed petitions about, or issues they told you they care about in a survey—is a long term strategy. Using this approach, you can provide supporters with content that highlights the specific issues they care about and makes clear how those issues fit into your overall mission. Over time, this will keep supporters engaged and build loyalty.

How do you segment your list? Let us know what tactics segmentation has allowed you to try and what they’ve helped you achieve! Also, if you’re struggling to figure out who’s going to write all of these messages, my recent blog on that topic might be useful, too.