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How to Personalize Donor Communications to Drive Fundraising Success

By Justin Piehowski March 15, 2021

It’s no secret what the power of highly personalized digital communications can do to cultivate supporters. 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. 

This is a clear signal that there’s room for improvement. This post will offer some easy ways you can personalize your organization’s communications and drive fundraising success.

Women posing for picture

Atlanta Mission transformed its communications, resulting in 37% revenue growth year-over-year.

Personalize Direct with Digital

Direct mail is a staple of most nonprofit marketing and fundraising programs. And for good reason; it works.

However, the ‘batch and blast’ techniques that are so ubiquitous in the direct mail world are often applied to sending out a marketing email. While this seems easier on the surface, it misses the opportunity that the platform provides to create a one-to-one personalized relationship with your constituents.

Consider combining direct mail tactics with the power of digital to convert donors to a lower-cost channel, especially as many people are becoming increasingly digital savvy.

Start With Personalized Email

What do you know about your constituent beyond just email addresses or phone numbers? There are many ways to align marketing and fundraising in order to gather data showing a constituent’s donation and volunteer history, household giving history, communication preferences, and even interactions with your emails and ads. 

Once you’ve gathered these critical data points, your fundraising or marketing team can begin to write for different audiences and tie very specific, personalized messages based on the information.

Let’s say that you are sending out an email message about your upcoming walk fundraiser. With your CRM, you can have a field that tracks an individual’s previous attendance at walk fundraisers. If the field indicates that someone attended the event last year, that recipient might see an email with the subject line, ‘We hope to walk with you again this year!’ Whereas if the field indicates that someone never attended the event before, the subject line might just be, ‘Join us for your first walk!’

You can take this a step further to leverage dynamic content, such as automatically selecting imagery for a constituent who lives in Denver as a beautiful mountainous spread, while the Chicago recipients receive walkers along Lake Michigan.

Want to make the perfect ask? You can even dynamically create personalized ask ladders so donation forms start at the right amount, based on supporter data.

Finally, new artificial intelligence tools, such as Einstein Send Time Optimization in Salesforce Marketing Cloud, can help you pinpoint the best time of day to send the email message based on your constituent’s past interaction history. This nuanced attention to detail increases the likelihood of your email being opened.

More importantly, your constituent now feels like more than a name in a database — they feel like you know them, and are working to have a deeper relationship with them.

Once you have optimized emails, you can then move onto personalizing digital ads, text messages, push notifications, and more. 

How Atlanta Mission Transformed Its Communications

Atlanta Mission empowers people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. Before the switch to Salesforce, Atlanta Mission relied heavily on direct mail to connect with their donors. The volume of mail was expensive and they were relying on the same set of messages for every donor and prospect. To personalize their outreach to donors, staff members James Barrell and Bonnie Beauchamp created a set of surveys to get to know their donors and prospects better. Using that data, they began designing personalized donor journeys, automated via email using the Nonprofit Success Pack, Account Engagement Lists & Engagement Studio. The results: 

  • Time Efficiency: a single campaign that used to take four to 12 hours of staff time now only takes minutes.
  • Revenue Growth: They realized over 50% growth with digital donors, which resulted in 37% revenue growth year-over-year.
  • Operation Streamlining: Automations in data cleanup have saved the organization $10,000 annually

Example of nonprofit email communication

Atlanta Mission’s personal approach to its communications resulted in 50% growth with digital donors.

While most nonprofit marketers love the idea of personalizing, some organizations focus too much on the time, money, and technical skills needed — resources that are often scarce in many organizations. 

Personalizing is an Investment

Overcoming the resource issue around personalizing marketing can be as simple as how you talk about the issue to your peers and superiors. It’s critical that the time and effort put into personalizing is seen as investment for your organization, not a cost center.

This means you need to share the results around donor conversion and return on investment. When done well, personalizing content will almost certainly lead to large gains in key performance metrics for your team, such as open, click, deliverability, and engagement rates. All of which ultimately leads to a boost in fundraising and revenue.

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet that will instantly make your organization better at personalizing digital marketing. The best way to begin is by starting small.

Find one area where you can become more personal in your marketing and give it a try. It will take time at first, but be sure to look at the results and measure the gain. Then tell your boss about it. 

Eager to learn more about digital fundraising? Check out our webinar, 5 Digital-First Fundraising Strategies, where we dive deep into the importance of embracing a digital-first approach to fundraising and constituent engagement.

About the Author

Justin Piehowski, Principle Success Architect at
Justin Piehowski
Principle Success Architect at

Justin is a principal marketing cloud advisor with, helping nonprofits navigate the ever-changing world of digital marketing. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two children, and an overweight English Bulldog named Frank.