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Donna Caputo
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Segmentation and Targeting: Don’t Use One without the Other


Imagine that your donors are all standing in a receiving line, and you’re walking down the line greeting each one of them. Some of these donors are new, so you address them formally, say “thank you,” look for an opportunity to get to know them more, and move on. Other long-term donors you may address by nickname, ask about their kids, and tell them about an exciting initiative at your organization. You act differently with each donor in the line because they are not the same. More importantly, your relationship with each of them is not the same.

All communications with your donors should mirror the way you treat them in person. But we don’t have time to address everyone personally via mass communications like email and direct mail, and that’s where segmentation comes in. Segmentation is grouping donors into categories based on shared characteristics. But—here’s the important thing—segmentation requires targeting to be effective. 

What is targeting? It’s using the information you have on each segment to craft the most appropriate message. When you segment without targeting, you’re ignoring the opportunity to personalize your message and make a significant connection based on your relationship to the recipient. You risk your messages going directly to the trash bin or flat-out annoying your donors.

Follow these three basic steps when developing messaging for your communications:

  1. Set your segment. Segment donors into groups based on shared characteristics that you’ve captured in your database.
  2. Select your target segments. Think about the goal of your appeal and select the segments that would most likely help you reach it
  3. Craft your message. Look at the unique qualities of each segment and craft a message that would appeal to their unique interests.

Lack of segmentation and targeting can also mislead your campaign insights. For example, if you send out a mass email that is not segmented or targeted, and report back to the team that millennials seem to be disengaged… well, that’s not the full picture. More accurately, the results might show that millennials are disengaged with the message that works for baby boomers. This is not a sign that millennials aren’t opening emails these days (please!), it’s a sign that you need to flip the message to something more relevant to them. That’s effective targeting!

Give it a try and make the most of your time and resources.

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