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How To Segment And Personalize Appeals To Raise More Money At End Of Year

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13 Lucky Year-End Fundraising Tips

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Does the phrase “segment your appeal” make you feel anxious, stressed, or worried?    

You may be asking yourself:

  • Are we segmenting right now?  
  • Sounds complicated, how would we do that?
  • What segments do we have and how should we communicate differently to each of them?
  • Do I have the technology to segment? (Good news—you do!)

In your head it may sound complicated and your knee-jerk reaction may be to wonder whether it’s really worth it to segment. As in, “Will this REALLY raise me more money?”

Here’s some visual proof that your fundraising communications are not one size fits all. If you aren’t segmenting, these four unique recipients would all get the same exact appeal:

Can you imagine making a gift and then immediately receiving another ask? Or being a major donor who should feel known and valued and instead receives a blanket non-segmented appeal message like:

Dear friend,

If you gave to Sweaters for Penguins in the past, thank you. If you haven’t, there’s still precious time to save our feathered friends!  

What is a segment?

A segment is a group of constituents who share the same attributes, such as monthly donors, lapsed donors, first-time donor, out-of-town donor, bequest donor, and etc.    

How do I use segments?

Use segments to create target audiences and hyper-personalize communications to them.

Step 1: Use actual names

At the most basic level, start by using a donor’s first name in the email or letter.

While your appeal is, at its core, the same message for all donors, some of the copy in your appeal should be personalized and specific to their giving behavior.

Step 2: Add a message targeted to each segment

Fundraising copywriter Julie Cooper recommends picking a third or fourth line paragraph in your appeal where you can adjust the language to speak to your donor segment (active, lapsed, major, or monthly donors). Here’s an example in an appeal from Idaho Youth Ranch, where I’ve highlighted the personalization and segmentation in bold:

Dear <Informal Greeting>,

I wish I didn’t have to write this letter. 

Why? Because I wish we lived in a world where child abuse didn’t exist. 

Where children don’t feel hurt, alone, scared, and afraid. 

That’s why I’m so grateful for you, <Informal Greeting>. You make this world a better place for kids. 

April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Your inspiring commitment to Idaho’s most vulnerable kids shows that this topic is near and dear to your kind and generous heart. That’s why I’m writing to you today. 

Likewise, someone who isn’t a donor is their own special segment. Notice how the copy here is very similar, but it doesn’t thank them for giving previously, instead it invites them to become their newest donor:     


I wish I didn’t have to write this letter.


Because I wish we lived in a world where child abuse didn’t exist.

Where children don’t feel hurt, alone, scared and afraid.

That’s why I’m writing to you today.

April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. I’m hoping you will help make this world a better place for kids by becoming Idaho Youth Ranch’s newest donor.

Step 3: Suggest varying gift amounts 

Use suggested gift amounts, also known as ask strings, in your direct mail appeal (and reply device) based on the donor’s last gift. For example:

Enclosed is my gift of:

$<ASK 1> to [repeat what the letter said the donor’s gift would do]

$<ASK 1.5> to [repeat what the letter said the donor’s gift would do]

$<ASK 2> to [repeat what the letter said the donor’s gift would do]

In this scenario, the first ask is what they gave last, the second is 1½ times that gift, and the last is twice that gift. For example, if a current donor’s last gift was $100, you would present them with an ask string of $100, $150, $200. You can experiment with ascending or descending order. 

Your reply device should have these same ask string plus a blank option, for example:

$________ to help as much as possible 

Heed Julie Cooper’s expert advice on using these variable ask strings: putting the appropriate ask amounts in front of each donor will impact your revenue — now and for years to come! Always do the math before you ask. 

Why should I use segments?

In one study, using first name personalization to address the reader resulted in a 270% increase in clicks. In another study, using personalization in the email subject line resulted in a 137% increase in opens.  

In short, the greatest gift you can give a donor is the gift of feeling known by you. Segmentation and personalization are the tools to make that happen. The better a job you do at segmenting and personalizing, the more your donors feel seen, heard, understood, and appreciated by you. The more valued you make them feel, the more they will give and the better your retention. 

Simply put, you can’t afford *not* to segment and personalize your appeals at the end of year (and year round)! 

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