I just finished reading two articles from mega-consultant McKinsey which were scary. Scary because they illustrate what we poor fundraisers are up against when it comes to marketing.

One article was titled What shoppers really want from personalized marketing. The other piece was called Marketing’s Holy Grail: Digital personalization at scale.

I don’t expect you to read these articles … for most nonprofits the effort required to attain the level of insight into individual customers’ (donors’) preferences and behaviour these articles illustrate would be far too daunting … and perhaps philosophically unsettling.

As McKinsey notes up front: “Anyone who has gotten an unsolicited and irrelevant offer related to something they’ve done online knows that creepy feeling that someone is watching me.

Continuing, however: “Targeted communications that are relevant and useful can create lasting customer loyalty and drive revenue growth of 10 to 30 percent. The challenge is to personalize in a way that doesn’t cross lines and delivers genuine value and relevance. But how do you know?

The first article discusses what separates ‘creepy’ from ‘relevant’, and offers this conceptual formula:

In fact, for both articles, relevance is at the heart and soul of what today’s marketing is all about. And the precision with which savvy business marketers attempt to know — and anticipate — their individual customers’ needs and preferences is what comes through most powerfully in the two pieces … both of which also illustrate how these attempts can be too clumsy and misfire.

The examples in the articles are chastening, in that they demonstrate how marketers and their customers are in effect in a kind of mutual feedback loop that, when well implemented, lets the marketer know more and more about each individual customer and tighten the relationship.

As I said above, many fundraisers might find all this very discomfiting. But this is the personalized commercial marketing that nonprofit fundraisers are up against … competing with.

At the end of the day, your organization needs to be as relevant to each of your donors as — let’s say, choosing from the McKinsey examples — Starbucks is to each of its customers.

Your donors expect it. They are being trained every day to value this kind of relevance, made possible by ‘knowing’ individual customer preferences, needs and motives.

This why Roger has been so passionate about the need for fundraisers to transition to fundraising based upon donor identity, which starts with directly asking individual donors the ‘why’ question about their giving. See herehere and here for recent examples.

Nothing enables individual fundraising relevance more than knowing the ‘why’ of individual giving.

As Roger has written:

“There’s no rocket science involved. Just a commitment to ask donors … the simple question: “Why did you give?” …”Why did you visit our website?”

“And yes, you really must be in touch with the donor and ask the question directly. Do it in a ‘thank you’ call … in a ‘thank you’ letter … on a direct mail response form … online … or in an open-ended survey question.”

How about this fundraising version of the McKinsey formula:

Why? > Identity > Relevance > Attention > Response = Value

It seems pretty straightforward to me: Relevance reigns!

Tom