What IS and ISN’T Personalization?

What is personalization? 

Personalization is the action of designing or producing something to meet someone’s individual requirements. What if Amazon, Netflix, or Uber were nonprofits that relied on fundraising to function?  These are brands that consistently deliver us a personalized experience, and for better or for worse, it keeps them relevant in an increasingly crowded world that grows in competition daily (Google).  

Personalization, once limited to these globally-notable brands like Amazon and Netflix, has become a requirement that all businesses big and small need to adopt. Personalization is offering our donors consistent, relatable, valuable content. It is understanding donors’ passions and interests and helping fulfill them to the extent possible. It is critical to raising effectiveness, satisfaction, retention, and loyalty.

While all of this sounds great, the unfortunate reality is that personalization is often a big lift. We need to shift our perspective and see it as a necessary investment (Salesforce). The emotional deposits we make when we personalize messaging are incomparably more powerful than mass messaging. When we can humanize our work, we can build unique relationships that turn donors from first-time givers into life-long advocates (Forbes). 

When we customize our engagement, we are able to ask our donors what is important to them. Our mission is at the center of all we do, but being able to match how we achieve this mission along with how/when we communicate to our supporters can vary. Customizing our engagement also provides very valuable feedback. A personalized approach shows you value the donor and their interest. Our hope and aim are to move donors from awareness to advocacy. Advocates for your organization come as the result of their belief they are “owners” and part of the mission. That ownership is the result of that customized interaction. We should answer the question, “How do we help our people become owners of the mission?”  (Virtuous)

What is NOT personalization?

Personalization is never a one-size-fits-all experience. Nonprofit Pro shows us that a recent study on donor behavior discovered that just “9% of modern donors said material sent by the charity, such as direct mail and email solicitations, triggered them to consider making a gift.” Only 9%! 

Sustainable donor growth “requires new strategies that treat giving decisions more like buying decisions. And this is a transformational shift in fundraising.

Decisions are now made based on personal experiences. We can’t just talk to the donor. We must start a conversation by first serving up the right content at the right time via the right channel.”

Canned or generic engagement creates missed opportunities to acknowledge the nuances inherent in every relationship, and 77% of consumers say they’re frustrated when they get push notifications or text messages for promotions they’re not interested in.

 A recent research study of 630 different organizations across 10 industry verticals in nine countries shows that while many nonprofits have adopted digital strategies, nearly half (45%) of emails sent didn’t mention the donor or subscriber by name.

In the past, personalization has typically meant using some first name merge tags at the beginning of an email campaign. A level up from there might have included a handful of data points that customize the appeal to the prospect or donor and make it seem as if it was written with them in mind. 

And this personalization often feels superficial or tied more to how the charity views its relationship to the recipient, with the recipient matching their segment audience. It’s hard to call this level of personalization “donor-centric.” In fact, sometimes a charity’s one-dimensional view of the donor is so blatant that when assigning descriptions to each segment, descriptions which are often printed on business reply coupons, these can be as blatant as <Monthly>, <Lapsed>, or even <General>! Can you imagine the donor experience for a donor who is made aware through a “transactional” word of how a charity views them? Not very pleasant.

It is important for nonprofits to cultivate a donor experience that shows that they are not just asking for money.  Personalizing interactions with supporters will ultimately show that you appreciate your donors as people and will facilitate sympathy with your cause at an individual level.

We support causes for personal reasons, things that have impacted our lives, our family, or our community very directly. When donors receive an email or call from their favorite nonprofit, they get the feeling that the organization has no idea who they are or what they care about. They feel alienated, and it short-circuits their generosity. It leads to the approximately 76% of donors who give to a nonprofit and never go on to give a second gift!

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