How Nonprofits Can Augment a Data-Driven Approach with Personalized Content

There’s an old saying that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. When we meet someone new, whether it be a co-worker, new friend, or a new romantic interest, we focus on making sure that we present ourselves well and leave that person with a good impression, so we can build a strong foundation for a new relationship.

The desire to leave someone with a good feeling about us goes beyond social interactions. In fundraising, you need to make a good first impression on your donors to foster a meaningful relationship between your nonprofit and a donor.

The Importance of Relationships

Your nonprofit should approach appeals with this mindset. When you send a donor an appeal for a campaign, you need to make a good first impression to encourage them to follow through on your call to action.

But nonprofit organizations shouldn’t just reach out asking for money. They need to connect with individuals who have something in common, build a relationship, and work towards a shared goal. Organizations that see their donor bases as more than transactional opportunities see more success in fundraising.

Building relationships with donors helps nonprofits find people want to work with them and are excited about their activities. Fostering a personal connection leads to increased volunteer interest, more consecutive gifts and improved stewardship.

Personalization Helps Make a Good First Impression

So how do we get this new donor/organization relationship off on the right foot?

One of the most powerful ways to accomplish this to provide your audience with something that feels relevant to them. The most successful fundraisers know they need to make a personal connection with their audience. Doing so results in a much higher success rate when it comes to acquiring and retaining donors when compared to reaching out to each unique individual with the same boilerplate message.

The more data you have for your donor base, the better. The more you know about an individual on your list, the more you can make appeals and other communications feel special to them.

Do’s and Don’ts of Personalized Content


  • Segment lists by donor category or other classifications
  • Share stories of impact in terms of how donors made it happen
  • Use names and other information unique to donors
  • Take the time to ask questions and get to know your prospects
  • Apply variable techniques with images and lay out (for advanced marketers)

Following this advice will help your organization personalize messages for the different individuals in your network. Relevant communications foster a meaningful connection based on common ideals. You can create more meaningful and engaging communications by implementing these basic principles of personalized content. These strategies can be applied to emails, newsletters, direct mail appeals, and much more.


  • Send a generic message to all your donors
  • Spout off superficial statistics or numbers irrespective of donors
  • Address messages “Dear Friend” or with any other generalization
  • Assume that donors are one and the same
  • Presume people just want to give simply because they can

Avoiding these pitfalls will prevent your donors from feeling like they are just one of thousands on your donor list. Sending email after email with the same generic messaging and greeting, perfunctory statistic, and uninspired call to action, probably won’t move donors to join the cause. It is important to think in the donor’s shoes.

Variable and Versioned Content

Personalized communications essentially break down into two categories: variable and versioned content. It is important to understand the difference between the two and how they can complement one another in your fundraising outreach.

Variable content includes materials that are entirely unique to the individual receiving your message. This type of content is specially crafted for each recipient and can be swapped out from piece to piece. Addressing the recipient by name, making a reference to the city they live in, and mentions of past giving history or other accomplishments are examples of variable content.

Versioned content is less specific but works towards the same goal of personalizing a message for the intended audience. For example, a nonprofit may send out three different versions of a letter announcing the beginning of a capital campaign. Long-time, repeat donors receive the first version. A second version targets lapsed donors, while a third version is sent to people who have never donated but have shown interest in the nonprofit’s work. The content within the letter would change from version to version but would not vary on an individual basis.

Variable Elements in Versioned Content

Many of the most successful fundraisers have adopted a hybrid approach. The most powerful communication materials incorporate both versioned and variable content. For example, the nonprofit in the previous scenario can take their personalization to the next level by adding variables in the separate versions of their appeal.

The versions for long-time and lapsed donors could include information on past gift amounts. Acknowledging past gifts lets your donors know that your organization appreciates it every time they contribute. This information can be used in personalized ask strings that encourage donors to increase the size of future donations. This is also a chance to let the donor know exactly what your organization was able to accomplish because of their last gift.

In the prospective donor version, you can make mention of the activities that previously peaked their interest. Then, explain how making their first gift today will benefit that specific interest.

Some Final Thoughts on Data-Driven Relevancy

Don’t forget, you can personalize all content for specific audiences, including text, images, and call to actions, as long as you have the necessary data available. The strategies we mentioned above can apply to every method of communicating with your donors, whether it be emails, print mailers, e-newsletters, or stewardship materials.

We will leave you with one last piece of advice. Once a new prospective donor shows interest in your organization, start collecting as much information about them as possible (while being sensitive to privacy concerns, of course). Remember, you want to make a good first impression when you send them that first appeal. You will want as much data as possible on hand, so you can send an appeal that feels personal and relevant and make that good first impression.


About Action Graphics:

Action Graphics exists to increase the value and effectiveness of our client’s fundraising and related communications.  We work with nonprofits and educational institutions to provide integrated strategies and execution to help them meet their goals. Our mission-centric approach has helped hundreds of organizations amplify their messaging and communicate more powerfully to deliver results and increase engagement.

Mike Montalto
Marketing Writer

Action Graphics

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