Donors are influenced by their experiences as consumers. And as consumers they have evolved and continue to raise the bar. 

For example: They are less responsive to direct mail that has NO personalization.  The exact same letter sent to 76,000 or to 1.8 million people doesn’t work at all like it used to.  Today people want to be recognized as individuals and not a mere number among the masses.

One Size Hurts All

Taking the “one size fits all” approach and using the same letter or email to your entire list hurts everyone.

It starts with the prospect or donor receiving your letter. They might be miffed or disappointed by a generic approach. Or they may simply have a ho-hum reaction.  The result is that fewer people give, and they give smaller gifts.  Prospects are hurt because they weren’t given the chance to personally connect with your mission.  They weren’t given the chance to add fulfillment to their lives because the letter was generic and uninspiring. 

Your nonprofit is hurt because you don’t raise as much revenue.  And the beneficiaries of your mission are hurt because they don’t receive as much help.  One size hurts all.

Data to the Rescue

Segmenting your file and using data to tailor communications to individuals is the way to personalize and raise response.  Now data management is not my area of expertise; so I won’t even attempt to talk about how you get the data.

But I do know I can write a far more compelling direct mail letter or email when I’ve got data on my recipients – the people receiving the message. 

It’s a superior letter when I can focus on writing to a major donor and show what their gift of $1,000 will do.  It’s a superior letter when I talk to a mid-level donor about what they’ve made possible in the past, how we appreciate their 4 years of devotion to the cause, and show what their $150 gift will do. 

Response goes up (i.e., the number of gifts received and/or average gift size) and everyone is helped by using data to send personalized, customized letters or emails.

Winning Example

Rarely am I able to share response data on the work I do for clients.  But I can share this example from the April 2011 issue of Direct Marketing to illustrate the difference tailored messages make:

Capital Hospice – located in Washington DC – wanted to reduce mailing costs and still meet its fundraising goals.

Their agency ( used analytics to generate a file with 400 distinct data points such as household income and donation base.  Using data and a segmented file they created multiple appeals to each of the segments. 


– Mailed about 100,000 fewer pieces and saved nearly $150,000 in mailing costs; cut costs about 25%.

– Capital Hospice met its fundraising goal of $1 million in revenue

Increased the average gift amount by 20.37% to $72.22 from $60

It may seem like you’re saving money by sending the exact same letter to everyone … but the odds are it’s actually costing you dearly.  One size hurts all.  Invest in getting the data you need so your copywriter can write an appeal that gets better response.