In the era of Big Data, marketers — and that includes fundraisers — are supposed to know everything possible about their customer/donor. Notice I use the singular … donor. The days are gone when it’s good enough to know about your donors in the aggregate.

Categories are indeed useful to marketers, but increasingly not sufficient. These days, individual customers/donors are being trained to be treated as individuals, not simply as widgets fitted into some useful (in theory, at least) marketing segment (e.g., organic food buyers). A lot of today’s expectations are driven by individuals’ engagement as online consumers, where, as we see for example from Amazon, there appears to be no end to the slicing and dicing we invite each time we add another purchase to our collection!

Online, every move is trackable and sourceable, making the previous champions of customer data collection — catalog marketers — look like ancient Silk Road spice merchants.

Yesterday I mentioned the single ‘data point’ suggested in the recent Blackbaud donor study — the donor’s birthday. Commercial marketers generate all sorts of birthday-driven offers and promotions … and they work.

Arguably, fundraisers have a less rich palette of offers to work with, but a few come to mind — “Consider sharing your birthday this year. Ask your relatives/friends to give your ‘present’ to charity X” … “On your birthday, we (charity X) want to celebrate the difference your contributions have made over the past year” … “It’s XYZ’s birthday today too. But they … Wouldn’t you like to …?”

In a Comment on yesterday’s post, Kim Silva asks: “What is a good way to gather birthday data that doesn’t offend people? I’ve been noodling about just including it in my reply devices. Are people turned off by that?”

All I can say Kim, is test it. For example, try presenting the requisite form fields with a straightforward explanation — “Our chairman likes to thank each donor personally for their support on their birthday … would you like to share yours?” — versus without. Try it in a response device, as you’re contemplating, versus in a cultivation piece (e.g., a welcome letter or other gift acknowledgement).

Have other readers tried birthday appeals?

My point in all this, though, is not about birthdays. That’s just a single bit of donor data that might or might not prove actionable or particularly powerful.

And that’s my main point. Personalization driven by relevant individual data will almost always yield better response. So don’t bother collecting what is not relevant to sharpening your fundraising requests. And don’t bother collecting data you will not act upon!

Start by building a hierarchy of data you believe would be most important in making your appeals more personally appropriate to an individual donor. Obviously much higher up the list would be, say, channel preference, previous gift history, or a stated program interest … rather than birthday or name of pet (unless you are PETA or ASPCA … see, different data strokes for different folks)!

Even the slick commercial marketers grapple with the ‘what data to collect and use’ question. A recent study of corporate marketers by Yesmail Interactive found that: “When it comes to transactional data, 53% of marketers say they have an excellent understanding of customers’ purchase history, followed by 42% for basic demographic information such as gender and age.”

Here’s a list of possible data points that a commercial marketer might find useful, and what understanding marketers actually have …

I’m sure we fundraisers do better than 53% on ‘Past purchase behavior’!! How about ‘Most valuable’?


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