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Personalization for donor retention


Connecting with existing donors, reengaging those who’ve left, attracting new donors, and increasing ongoing engagement with all are vital practices for nonprofit organizations to reach their goals. The most effective donor retention strategy is through personalization.

Considering nonprofits are mission-driven organizations for which empathy and idealism are fundamental forces, personalization is even more significant. Donors must identify with the mission of the nonprofit. Success in this area could mean gaining a supporter for life.

Personalization is all about providing relevant content. This requires turning large amounts of data into individual experiences for donors and users. The application of knowledge in the construction of personalized experiences is classic engineering, and young professionals are hard at work coming up with these experiences at every stage of the donor’s journey.

A nonprofit personalization strategy has several components, and organizations are adopting innovative approaches to make them their own.1


Nonprofits need to deliver personalized messages that are relevant to each type of donor. Breaking up donors into smaller lists (by acquisition channel, giving frequency, donation amount, programs to which they donate) helps send the right message to the right people.4 For example, charity:water employs a nonprofit email marketing strategy centered on highlighting the outcomes of individual contributions.2 Segmentation is the cornerstone of personalization and any nonprofit hoping to succeed should be taking full advantage of this opportunity. An entry-level professional can make an immediate and profound impact by focusing on segmentation.

Knowing your audience

Personas are fictional representations of ideal donors or target audiences that make it easier for nonprofits to tailor content to their specific needs, behaviors, and concerns. Truth Initiative2 – the nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness among young adults about the dangers of smoking– created a campaign called #CATmageddon that targeted cat owners and informed them about the effects of cigarette smoke on their pets.

By zeroing in on a persona, Truth Initiative has seen three times the number of conversions in social media compared to other digital tactics in the past.


Automation ensures consistency, guarantees completion, frees up staff time, and makes optimization possible.

Mobile access 

Audiences want to interact with organizations on their smartphones. There are ways to facilitate this, from personalized content delivered to mobile to something more out-of-the-box, like the World Wildlife Fund’s endangered animals emojis.5 Furthermore, 63% of mobile users would rather use an app than visiting a website.8 Apps save the user’s data and information and make it easier for nonprofits to deliver a personalized experience.

Social media

The challenge for nonprofits in this area is to develop marketing efforts tailored to each platform’s purpose and create targeted content for each channel. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge scores top marks here6 –  perfectly suited to video platforms (simple, short, funny), immediately viral, and spectacularly effective (over $100 million in donations).


 From email subject lines to the shape of a donation button, testing helps nonprofits realize what content an audience responds to and allows for iteration. For example, on World Refugee Day,3 the International Rescue Committee used A/B testing to optimize their marketing strategy. Because the winning option was so popular with the audience, IRC used the same visual approach for their graphics, landing page, and profile images.

As the strategy components reveal, personalization is a multidisciplinary undertaking. It requires engineers, technicians, data analysts, and creative talent to work together in a coordinated effort. The effort is well worth it– according to a recent study, 78 percent of internet users in the US stated that personally relevant content increases their purchase intent.10 This means nonprofits who engineer personalized experiences for their users will build stronger connections and support.


(1) Solution Link. Personalization in Nonprofit Marketing, 7 Quick Tips. Retrieved from
(2) Abramovich, G. (2018, November 27th). 5 Nonprofits that Are Succeeding with Personalization. Retrieved from
(3) Walgrove, A. 10 Insights from Nonprofits that Stand Out on Social Media. Retrieved from
(4) NCVO/Knowhow. Segmentation and Targeting. Retrieved from
(5) Canva. 20 Ad Campaigns All Nonprofits Should See. Retrieved from
(6) ALS (2014, August 29th). Ice Bucket Donations Top $100 Million in 30 Days. Retrieved from
(7) Sluis, S. (2016, August 1st). How Truth Initiative Uses Data To Save Lives. Retrieved from
(8) Blair, I. Why Utilizing Mobile Apps Is a Must for Nonprofits. Retrieved from
(9) The Georgia Straight (2019, March 28th). New App Gives Immigrants a Head Start. Retrieved from
(10) Campaign Monitor. The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Nonprofits. Retrieved from
Editorial credit: Pelikh Alexey /
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