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Intro to Donor Identity

Intro to Donor Identity

In this series, our experts discuss the importance of donor identity and how to leverage it for your organization’s’ bottom line.

Motivation: It Matters.
Not everyone who shows up at a car dealership is looking for the same thing. It’s obvious, right? Every customer is unique and every customer is looking for something different from their shopping experience. In fact, even people who are looking at the exact same make and model have different motivations. A 20-year-old student might be looking to rent the shiny red convertible sports car because he wants a ride that will impress his dates. While a 50-year-old middle manager might be looking to purchase that same car to stave off a mid-life crisis. Thus, a good salesperson needs to know his client and understand her needs before embarking on the path to a sale.

Donor Identity

As it happens, the nonprofit’s business is a lot like the sales business. In order to be successful in finding and converting clients or constituents, you need to understand the range of motivation that drives each of them. For nonprofits, charities, and advocacy organizations, leaders must appeal to each donor’s motivation for giving. This unique motivation is what we mean when we talk about donor identity. It is the donor’s identity that nudges her to take out her pocketbook and write you a check. She sees herself as a certain type of person and donor and because of that, she gives to your org.
Here is an example: Joanne is a breast cancer survivor. It’s a big part of who she is, and because she beat cancer she feels compelled to make a large annual gift to a large cancer treatment center. Joanne was a patient there and she wants to help others like herself beat breast cancer.

Now, here’s another example for a different donor but the same charity. Paul is a cancer researcher at a major health organization. He studied immunology in college and wants to put that knowledge to good use in finding new treatments. Like Joanne, he makes an annual donation to the cancer treatment center. But unlike Joanne, Paul specifically gives because he is intrigued with the advanced therapies being tested on patients who have very aggressive forms for the disease. Thus, we have two donors who both give to the same organization, but for two very different reasons. Knowing what you know about Joanne and Paul what source of communication would you send each of them for a fundraising campaign?

For Joanne, perhaps a heartwarming story of a mother of three who overcame breast cancer (thanks in part to Joanne’s support) would be most effective. And for Paul, how about a rundown of the newest and latest treatment regiment being used for patients as well as their results. This personalization and relationship building is what donor identity is all about. But as you can see, the first step is finding out each donor’s identity and reason for giving.

So how can we do that? Stay tuned for Grassroot Communications’ Donor Centric newsletter Here’s a clue: we can guess, or we can ask. We will discuss both in upcoming articles.

Tracking Your Members’—and Future Members’—Usage Patterns

Keeping members engaged means putting messages out in places where they will find them–it’s an axiom as old as marketing itself. These days, with the increasing number of channels–from social media to broadcast outlets such as podcasts and Internet radio–media consumers have more choices than ever. That means marketing professionals have more opportunity, too–both to hit the mark and get it wrong.

Staying on top of where your audiences is key to driving current campaigns. But what about preparing for the next generation of members? While it may be too early to target teens and young adults just starting their careers, it’s not too early to understand how they consume content, as those habits are likely to form their future patterns.

Pew Research Center takes regular surveys on Internet usage. One recent report focused on teens and social media usage–and some of the emerging trends may surprise you.

Most marketers know that Facebook, with more than 2 billion users worldwide, is the largest social media network in the world. Plenty of digital advertising strategies reflect this–Facebook’s targeting abilities make it a powerful delivery medium for all types of messages. But among 13-17-year-olds–a big chunk of the next generation of consumers–Facebook ranks fourth, behind YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. This is a major change from the last survey on teens, done three years ago.

Of course, most social media users are on more than one platform. Pew found that Snapchat and YouTube are the most preferred platforms for teens, with about a third preferring one or the other. Instagram, at 15%, was third.

Another key data point: 95% of teens have a smartphone, and 45% of them say they are online “constantly.”

Teens Social Media

For marketers, the Pew report has several key takeaways.

Mind your other platforms. Facebook has earned its place as the dominant social media platform, and one that gets its share of advertising dollars. But if you are not exploring others–notably YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram–you should start.

Multi-channel campaigns remain key. The fact that the Pew survey’s target age group was evenly split on which platform they preferred most shows that tastes differ, and that most users will provide opportunities to be reached on multiple channels. Use this to your advantage re-enforcing your message, call-to-action, or brand in multiple places.

Mobile is key. Smartphones are used for much more than social media. The fact that 95% of teens are using them, and half of those call their use “constant,” tells you all you need to know about how important your mobile strategy needs to be. From ads to a mobile-friendly website–and don’t forget your ancillary sites such as event pages in addition to the main site–make sure your digital strategy doesn’t short-change the mobile user’s experience.

One of our specialties is making sense of how to best reach very specific audiences. If you have a campaign you’re working on, we’d be happy to collaborate with you to maximize your efforts. Contact Sherene Rapoport at sherene@grassrootcommunications.com or 540.428.7000 x3032 to get started!


How to Generate Interest in Your Organizations Cause?

If you think about it, the true challenge for the activist – whether the CEO of a major non-profit or the founder of a grassroots political movement– is to relate the necessity of the core cause to everyday citizens who have no personal experience or connection with that cause.

How difficult it would be for Cancer Research Institute to raise the astronomical funds they raise if the disease did not affect so many of us and our loved ones – would it even be possible?

After all, people have their own priorities like paying bills, dealing with health issues, taking care of children… etc. So why should they be interested in your org’s cause? Thus, the hallmark of a great outreach campaign is the ability to connect with your audience completely by penetrating the layers of apathy, of cynicism and nudging your prospective supporters to embrace the necessity of your org’s mission while momentarily forgetting about their own workaday concerns. The only question is how?

Part of the answer is that it depends on who exactly is on the other end of your communication. Research suggests that smaller donors prefer personal stories of the very real people benefited by your org’s work while larger donors, who tend to be more organized in their giving, tend to view gift giving as an investment.

In the latter case, numbers may prove more effective than words.

However, even within these two brackets, there is sufficient scope for customization. Should the personal anecdotes feature innocent children as subjects? Alternatively, do some small donors relate better to stories featuring the point of view of working-class parents?

In addition, when it comes to quantifying impact assessment for our large donors, should we discuss the immediate economic value to the local community? Alternatively, should we analyze the org’s results in a more global context?

For instance, we might report that contributions to your educational non-profit focused on local public school reform is expected to increase the value of real estate in nearby districts starting in 10 years.

The next generation of non-profit communication involves detailing not only how a donor fits into the life of the org, but also how the org fits into the life of the donor. It is an art as much as a science – augmented by both social media analytics and one’s own social experiences.

Most importantly, it is a fluid and dynamic process that requires both creativity and a penchant for experimenting. When executed properly, however, the payoff can be extraordinary.

More Data Isn’t Always Better Data—Why Quality Matters, Too

If you’re a marketer and you haven’t been hiding under a rock for, oh, the last decade, you are well aware of how important data has become in developing successful campaigns. For a long time, the battle cry was, “More data!” Capture information from your customers and prospects–the more, the better.

But data quantity is only one ingredient in the recipe for successful analytics-driven marketing. Data quality matters as well–and it’s arguably more important as your dataset grows.

Why? Because data is only as good as it is accurate, and customer data points change over time. The simple act of getting older shifts a person’s data profile through the major stages of life: student, young professional, parent, retiree, and so on. An analysis by Biznology found that data can decay at a rate of 70% per year if left untouched.

Decaying data simply leads to more problems. If your team is working with bad data, they will get bad results, or the equally undesirable task of trying to hunt for better data to make the campaign work. The Harvard Business Review estimates that inaccurate or incomplete data can lower a marketing team’s productivity by as much as 50%.

Fortunately, a few simple steps will ensure that a good quantity of data will keep its quality over time.

  • Ensure duplicates are removed. It’s easy to get the same person on your list multiple times. Maybe they sign up twice, or they appear in two different lists you aggregate. Regular de-duping is a must.
  • Consider removing inactive leads after a certain period of time. Yes, pulling potential customers out of a database is painful, but so is messaging lots of people that are not, and never will be, interested in your message.
  • Collect the same data from different sources. The concept of “uniformity” is important to collecting quality data. If one lead-generation form collects ZIP codes and one collects email addresses, you will have great, but incomplete, data. One way to help fill in gaps: encourage your customers to add bits of data each time they interact with you, perhaps in exchange for something of value (e.g. a case study or white paper.)
  • Audit your data regularly. Putting your data set under the microscope on a regular basis is a prudent way to maintain quality. This is often best done using outside expertise (and it’s something we do often for our clients).

One other strategy worth considering: Automation. Processes such as de-duping can be done automatically. Use the power of digital not just for outreach, but to sharpen your outreach tools!

Developing and maintaining quality data sets is one of our core competencies. We’d love to talk to you about your challenges, and work with you to create more opportunities. Contact Sherene, our VP of Sales and Marketing, to start the conversation!

For more data-quality tips and insight, see the related infographic from our friends at Connext

Grassroot Communication | Quality Data

Creating a kick butt appeal using gender personalization

In Chronicle of philanthropy, an article illustrates beautifully why your data people need to talk to your writers who both need to talk to your printer in order to execute a successful campaign.

Put simply, researchers from the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza’s college of business, found that in order to boost interest in supporting environmental causes in men, campaign designers need to make the appeal “more masculine.

What does that mean? It means ditching the frilly font and light colors and emphasis on “togetherness,” and replacing it with an image of a howling wolf and dark color patterns like “wilderness” and “rugged.” The point is that you need to build your campaign with your different donor groups in mind. What works for one segment such as women, may not be as effective for another (men who want their masculinity subtly reinforced).

Read more about the testosterone-fueled campaign comparison study tier (More cash from the he-man nature lovers club)

If you want to learn more about deploying highly personalized direct mail campaigns, we are here for you.

3 Fundraising Myths Busted

Urban legends. Folklore. Misinformation. Rumors. Myths. We’ve all heard plenty of myths debunked by the plain, simple truth over the years. Oftentimes, a myth stubbornly holds on simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or because the same words get repeated and passed down. But let’s look at the facts and do a little myth-busting about fundraising.

1. The myth of “too much mail”

All donors complain about “too much mail,” right? Have you ever actually heard a donor say this?
Research shows that the culprit is the relevance of the mail, not the volume. What donors complain about is a mailbox or inbox full of junk that doesn’t make sense. Who thinks I need more credit cards? Who got the idea I want to elect Republicans/Democrats? Who thinks we have a child living with us who needs math skills-enhancing software? Why do I get all this dumb, wasteful, annoying junk mail?

In reality, when your mail is relevant to the donor, she welcomes it. When the information fits into her world and speaks to issues she cares about, you make her feel empowered and connected. You give her an opportunity to contribute and make a difference.

When your fundraising is targeted to the right donor and segmented to the right group of donors (see the related story on page 1), you’ll get fewer complaints – even if you send a lot of mail.

2. The myth of the “Rested Donor”

The myth: Once a donor gives, you should let him “rest” from hearing from you. This lets him rejuvenate from giving. If you ask again too soon, you risk doing irreparable damage.
The reverse could also be true. Leave a donor alone too long and they’ll think you don’t really care much about them or their donation. Does any healthy relationship improve with no communication? Donors who don’t hear from an organization for months after they give are far less likely to ever give again.

By giving, donors experience joy….

The joy of knowing that he is a loving person

The joy of knowing he is a contributor to society

The joy of seeing himself as a problem solver

Always remember, the donor is giving, not to you or your organization, but through you to fulfill a mission that he believes in.

3. The myth of the “Killer Complaints”

If you say anything at all to a large group of people, some of them will complain.
While it is true that some donors will complain no matter what you do or do not do, that shouldn’t make you kill your entire campaign.

Yes, it feels bad when donors complain. But about all that gets hurt by complaints is your feelings. Still, some nonprofits are so fearful of donor complaints that they kill successful campaigns all because of a few complainers. Do you really want to give any disgruntled person with the energy to write a note or an email more power than the thousands of satisfied donors who voted “yes” with their wallets for your cause?

All fundraising programs generate complaints. In fact, the more successful the program, the more complaints. That’s the nature of motivation. Most strong fundraising campaigns put real emotions in play. Urgency and need – keys to successful fundraising – can make people feel uncomfortable. And some uncomfortable people complain.

Don’t ignore the complainers. Pay close attention to them. After all, they care enough to communicate with you. If you handle it well, you can turn a complainer into a loyal friend. Most complainers really just need to be heard. A quick and thoughtful explanation will mollify them. Assure them you understand their concerns and explain the organization’s goals and motivations. If all goes well, you’ll win over a campaign ambassador by the end of the conversation.

You might need to make a few tweaks to the program. However, do not change your entire program just to satisfy a few complainers. Only program-wide results should guide how you act program-wide.

Truth: Fundraising Shouldn’t Hurt

What these three myths have in common is an erroneous belief that fundraising hurts donors. If you think your fundraising is a painful experience for your donors, you might be right. You may think that asking for money is bad. You might be sending out another tired, well-worn appeal as often as you think your donors can stomach it, and then crossing your fingers that someone responds.

Don’t do that!

Treat your fundraising as a team relationship. Together, you and your donor are going to change the world. With this attitude, you’ll treat donors with respect and be thankful for their giving. You’ll tell them they make a difference and ask on their terms. And your asking will be as welcome (and sincere) as your thanking.

And that’s the truth!!

The Proven Formula for Donor Newsletters

by Tom Ahern, of Ahern Donor Communications — www.aherncomm.com

In the 1990s, a Seattle fundraising shop called the Domain Group took the garden-variety donor newsletter, stripped it down to its components, and began testing … to see if they could come up with something better. Sort of like rebuilding a hot rod.

Domain eventually developed a formula that made a donor newsletter HIGHLY worth doing: some Domain clients began raking in more gifts through their newsletters than through their direct mail appeals.
Domain had its hot rod. Think about that a moment. Read more ›

Writer’s Tip – Talk about Donors!

Working at an organization for a while is a great way to become both incredibly passionate and deeply informed about its mission. But one thing that such longevity often brings is a loss of perspective about what attracts members or donors to your organization in the first place. You look at all of the great work that you do and ask yourself, isn’t it obvious why we’re worth supporting?
Often, this leads leaders in the non- profit sector to adopt an outreach strategy designed to fill the so-called knowledge gap. They craft appeals that tell donors and would-be patrons about all of the great things the organization has ever done. This way, the organization’s day-to-day efforts can be appreciated by everyone—not just those who are intimately involved.
Problem solved, right?
Not so fast.
As a nonprofit leader, you may think the best way to sell your organization to prospective donors is by talking about all the great things you do. But here’s the thing: most donors find that stuff extremely boring.
Guess what donors don’t find boring? Themselves and the things they care about. It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many appeal letters focus too much on what the organization has accomplished, and not enough on why donors and prospects should care.
Donor-centric fundraising isn’t just about the mission—it’s about your audience, too.
So how do you write a donor-centric appeal letter that will knock their socks off? That’s where we come in.
Stick around and we will show you how it’s done.

Using Digital To Connect With Your Members

Savvy association executives know that technology is a key driver in serving membership—from user-friendly websites to apps that help keep members connected and engaged. What may be a surprise, however, is how pivotal technology is at making a member feel like they are part of the community.

A recent study by software provider Community Brands makes strong links between how well associations leverage digital tools to serve members better, and how connected—and satisfied—those members feel.

The study, Examining the Gap Between Member Expectations and Association Technology, surveyed more than 1,000 members of professional associations and 400 staff members in fall 2017. The takeaways show that associations have significant opportunities to drive member loyalty through technology, but many organizations are not taking advantage of them. The ones that are investing in technology to connect members—primarily through personalization of communication and content—are reaping tremendous benefits.

“In our study, we discovered technology and personalization play pivotal roles in driving member loyalty, but there is a growing disconnect between where members believe their organization is delivering the best experiences and what they value,” said Sig VanDamme, membership software evangelist at Community Brands. “The experience gap is especially pronounced with personalization. Members who believe they are receiving personalized content feel significantly more satisfied and connected with their organization.”

The survey shows that most associations—at least 60%–are using four primary digital tools: email marketing, CRM software, events-related tools, and webinar services. Other tools that align with member needs and priorities—such as job boards and learning management systems for training–are less common. Mobile apps are used by only half of the organizations surveyed as well.

A look at the members’ desires shows a disconnect. Among those born from 1965 to 1999—think Generation Xers and Millennials—at least 65% say technology plays a “big role” in their lives. More than 80% use a mobile device every day, and the same number pay for at least one digital subscription, such as Netflix.

Data Mobile Devices

It’s no surprise, then, that among the different ways that members can connect with their associations, the mobile option is the only one where more respondents said they wanted to engage than were actually engaging. This shows a gap between what associations are offering, and what members want.

“Organizations need to take these technology experience gaps seriously and progress to more seamless experiences that align with evolving digital behavior, and meet increasing member expectations for flexibility and personalization in everything they do,” VanDamme said.

What’s the easiest way to begin closing these gaps? Start with personalization. More than 70% of respondents said that personalized content appeals to them and makes them feel more connected with their organization. The type of content can vary—from discounted offers to conferences based on a member’s history or skill set, or specific articles on topics of interest based on a member’s profile.

“A majority of members (69 percent) feel more engaged with an organization after receiving personalized content, based on their past activity, because it shows the organization is interested in meeting their needs,” the study said.

Start small: birthday wishes, congratulatory notes when certain certifications are reached, or even products and services that align with the member’s profile. The key is to ensure the data you have is up to the task.

Grassroot Communications specializes in data analytics—and our team would be happy to help you! And if you’re wondering how to jump-start building a valuable database that stretches beyond your membership, contact us.

Community Brands Study

Taking the “pain” out of your campaign.

As an executive director, team leader, or person in charge of your organization’s campaign, which of the following issues is giving you heartburn?

A. Having to slap together an appeal letter for your fundraising campaign at the very last moment.

B. Dealing with shoddy, incomplete, or otherwise unhelpful donor data that you know could be useful for your organization’s fundraising.

C. Having to coordinate your fundraising campaigns and appeals with too many people – the data scientists, the writer, the agency, the print house, etc. – resulting in missed deadlines, unforeseen costs and a complete lack of quality control and oversight.

D. All of the above


If any part of putting together and executing a capital or acquisition campaign sticks in your craw, we have excellent news for you! GRC – now GrassRoot Communication – handles the entire campaign process, from data analytics, to letter writing, to production, to mailing and tracking, all under one roof. And the best part is, all of our departments work together to ensure that your organization’s campaign is as successful and profitable as possible.

First, our data scientists take your existing donor data, clean it up, and append it with additional information. This will help us to better understand your donors and also find brand new donors that are likely to support your organization.

Once we better understand the supporters and prospects your organization attracts, our data team breaks them into groups of like-minded donors and gives that information to our writers, who then analyze each segment and create customized messages and narrative arcs for each one. After developing captivating appeals for each group, we personalize the fields and customize reply devices. Following the formal proofing process, our very own copy editor reviews all final drafts and templates before production begins.

Finally, our production team works with our data team to ensure that all personalization is handled impeccably. Once production is complete, all campaign materials are properly assembled and promptly shipped to your donors. Tracking ensures that every direct mail package reaches its intended destination.

This is but a quick rundown of the average fundraising and acquisition campaign building process for our nonprofit clients. But in reality, some of the projects that we handle are much more complex and involve heavy personalization and customization. So whether your organization is large or small, we have the ability and the capacity to take care of your entire campaign, from start to finish. Eliminate countless hours of stressing about whether or not your campaign will get out on time and on budget, by teaming up with GrassRoot Communication today.

With that said, we would like to officially welcome you to GrassRoot Communication – the new and improved GRC. While we are still the same reliable, customer-centric company that you have come to expect quality work from, we have broadened the scope of our service model.

Put simply, we are not just a printing company. We are also a data analytics company and a content creation company, and we aim to use our decades of experience producing direct mail campaigns for nonprofits and associations to help you design and execute a winning campaign.

We will use this newsletter to discuss effective strategies for winning over your organization’s constituents,
as well as how best to improve your organization’s approach to communication and engagement. But the conversation does not end here! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them on our blog and social media pages.

We hope you enjoy our educational content and trust that you will find our insights helpful to your organization’s outreach efforts!


GRASSROOT COMMUNICATIONS. We take the pain out of your campaign.