The following is an excerpt from Robots Make Bad Fundraisers – How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age by Steven Shattuck, published by Bold & Bright Media.

The other day I receive a donation appeal that contained a curious sentence.

It read:

“Whether you donated today, previously have given, or still plan to give, we thank you for your ongoing support in our mission.”

I had seen it before; this practice of listing all the possible reasons for sending or possible recipients of a communications piece.

That same day, the preeminent Beth Ann Locke, Director of Advancement at Simon Fraser University, bemoaned a similar acknowledgement she received:

It read:

“We know you just bought tickets or made a donation, or maybe you just subscribed, so we want to send you a big THANK YOU!”

Instantly I became obsessed with not only getting to the root cause of this practice, but also naming it. After workshopping several ideas, Beth Ann came up with a winner.

Allow me to introduce a new term to the nonprofit lexicon:


What is “seglumping?”

Seglumping is that act of referencing multiple audiences in one, unsegmented communications piece.

Lumping + Segments = Seglumping.

To be fair, seglumping is almost always done with the best intentions, usually as an attempt at inclusiveness, or as a result of not having the tools required for proper segmentation. It’s a holdover from mass media communications (radio, TV, etc.) where audience segmentation was impossible.

It’s also easy to rationalize the alternative.

Back to Beth Ann:

You can imagine a fundraiser saying:

“We could segment the database… you know, so all the dog lovers get the doggy emails, and the horse people get the horsey emails” and their boss saying “Oh yeah? How is that gonna work? Because we haven’t done it yet. Everyone likes getting all the animal emails. They are ANIMAL lovers!”

There is always a naysayer who has more power (inertia) than someone who wants to do the right thing.

One sign that you might be seglumping is if your letter or email contains a sentence that begins with “Whether you’re a…”

For example:

  • Whether you’re a long-time donor or haven’t made your first gift…
  • Whether you’ve volunteered before or want to get started…
  • Whether you’re passionate about the rainforests or the arctic…”
  • Whether you’ve contributed to this campaign or you want to make an impact for the first time…”

There is no way that the rest of the content of that letter or email can be simultaneously compelling to both audiences. You’re also devaluing the audience with stronger past engagement, loyalty or capacity.

Unfortunately, seglumping can alienate the recipient when it hits their personal inbox, and be more harmful than no segmentation whatsoever.

In fact, my hierarchy would be:

  • Segmentation: Good
  • No Segmentation: Neutral, at best
  • Seglumping: Bad
  • Bad Segmentation: Worst

Yes, seglumping is actually worse than not segmenting, because it can be a direct slap in the face, rather than simply ineffectual.

The best segmented communications illustrate to the recipient that you know exactly who they are, what they value, etc., but leave them unaware that there are actually multiple versions of that communication for other audience groups that they do not belong to. This results in a subliminal feeling that they are the only donor that matters to the organization. The letter was written just for them and no one else. They are known. They are a beautiful and unique snowflake.

Conversely, seglumping shows recipient that they are just a tiny fish in a big, crowded pond. It shows them that you either didn’t take the time or were unable to craft a message just for them.

Let’s go back to my original example:

“Whether you donated today, previously have given, or still plan to give, we thank you for your ongoing support in our mission.”

Let’s say you’re a $100 monthly donor to this organization, having given for the past five years. You’re being seglumped in with people who have never given, who are still (for some reason) getting thanked for their “ongoing support?”

Is it any wonder that poor communications are often cited in donor loyalty studies as a top reason why donors lapse?

An exception: “Crossed Paths”

One instance where it’s not only acceptable, but also recommended, that you reference multiple potential audiences in one piece is in the case of a multi-touch letter campaign that spans an extended period of time (weeks or more).

For example, let’s say you’re sending out three letters over a period of six weeks. Consider adding a line to the second or third letter that reads “If your donation and this letter crossed paths in the mail, we thank you!”

This way, the donor won’t be put off by the fact that they just recently donated to a campaign they’re receiving an appeal for.

The best possible thing you can do is segment out those who have already contributed, but this isn’t always possible with drop dates, shipping times (to and from your org), data entry, etc. It’s also possible that a donor uses a reply device not tied to the current campaign, or makes an online donation instead of mailing a check, resulting in you attributing or designating the gift differently.

With email and online donations, there’s less of an excuse for this if you have an integrated solution (database / email marketing / online giving).

For example, if it’s a special one day, online day of giving and you’re sending out multiple emails, consider adding “If you’ve already made your donation today, we thank you!”

Seglump no more

The first step toward change is awareness.

Hopefully this post has made you aware of the fact that you might be seglumping.

If you can’t segment, don’t seglump to compensate.

If you can segment, then by all means please do so. Your donors will appreciate it.

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media.