You Need to Know Your Donors to Engage Them

How Insights Lead to Greater Fundraising ROI

Most fundraisers are familiar with the idea that it’s less expensive to keep a donor than to find a new one. And many are aware about how to retain donors: they need to build strong connections between the charity and the donor. In the past, charities have focused on the importance of making rational, deliberate appeals on the assumption that donors made rational, deliberate decisions when giving. 

But research studies tell us that decision-making is more impulsive and emotional than rational. This is particularly true when it comes to deciding whether or not to donate to a cause. We are persuaded by REASON but moved to act by EMOTION.

There’s even quantitative research that reports that customers who are “emotionally connected” to an organization are 2X+ more valuable to the organization than just “highly-satisfied” customers over a lifetime. 

All the statistics tell us that if we want to increase the ROI of our fundraising, we need to build emotional connections with our donors.

But, how exactly do you do that? 
To create the kind of one-to-one, relevant communications that can help donors feel connected to a charity, you need to know your audience and what triggered their decision to give in the past. This can usually be done by adding data points to your donor database. 

What are the key data points for building emotional connections?
There are a lot of data points you need to segment your audience for more efficient and effective fundraising, but not all are essential to building emotional connections. For that, you need to focus on these key points:

  1. Demographics – Age, employment, ethnicity and family status. A married donor with children will likely be motivated by different types of messaging and imagery than a young single person or a married couple without kids. Connecting with your donors with messaging that resonates and imagery that helps them identify with the charity’s beneficiaries goes a long way to building a connection that extends beyond just thinking positively about your organization. If you don’t already have all of these data points in your database, you can add them through an appending service.
  2. Educational Background – Knowing the education level of your donors is important to developing proper messaging. The higher the education, the more likely the donor is to have disposable income. Plus, you want to use language that’s understandable and avoid vocabulary that leaves your donors feeling excluded. Again, this information is available through an appending service.
  3. Channel and Cadence – Your existing performance tracking can tell you a lot about how a donor wants to be contacted, when and how frequently. But, it’s always good to confirm these preferences with research. So, ask your donors and add their communications preferences to their donor file. And make sure to track response rates by channel.
  4. Reason for Giving – This is the most important data point of all; why they gave to your charity in the first place. Do they have a personal history with the cause your charity supports? Did they participate in an event?  Were they asked by a friend or relative to give?

These are insights that are usually obtained through research. You need nuanced understanding of the motivation behind their previous gifts, and how they rank the importance of that motivation. Work with an experienced marketing firm like us to make sure the answers you’re getting mean what you think they mean. Watch for our next article on Designing Actionable Research.   

How does knowing my donors improve ROI?
Once you have the necessary data points you can start to look for ways to segment your donor database. Donor segmentation, along with variable data printing techniques will allow you to create the personal communications that reinforce the emotional connection you want to build, without the costs of creating individual appeal letters for every donor. 

Those connections mean increased engagement with your organization, more loyal donors and less turnover. All of which translates into improved ROI on your fundraising efforts. 

Still not sure how to get started?
We have been helping fundraising organizations use this data-based approach for more than 10 years to build stronger, emotional connections with donors and achieve astonishingly good results. Check out the case studies on our web site and give us a call. We would welcome the opportunity to talk about how we can help your organization. 


Mark M Gaskill
Mark M Gaskill

EVP of Marketing Solutions

LinkedIn logo