Segmenting Lists

Dear Kim,

I am about to take the plunge. For years I’ve listened to many fundraisers stress the importance of segmenting your donor lists. For a variety of reasons including laziness, being too busy, and poor software, I have not yet done this.

But there are other reasons that I never see anyone mention. I just processed a donation from someone whose last gift was in 2003. He was responding to the newsletter. This has happened many, many times in the years I’ve worked here. Had I gotten around to segmenting, I would probably have left this person off the newsletter list and might have missed this donation.

So, I’ve been loathe to actually remove anyone who is still alive from the mailing list without their request to do so. This also leaves me in a quandary about how to segment and what categories to use.


~Leaving them off without leaving them out

Dear Leaving,

I am an enormous fan of segmenting and my experience is that, when it is done right, it saves time and results in greater donor retention (which can be measured) and greater donor happiness (harder to measure but very important).

Segmenting basically means trying to meet the donor where they are. For example, organizations that have large galas or other kinds of big events often find that there are people who only go to those events and do not respond to any other requests for money. In fact, if the organization doesn’t have the event one year, those people don’t give at all. So, I wonder, why send them extra appeals? Just invite them to the event and keep them on your e-newsletter list.

Some people only give once a year. No matter how often you ask them, they give once. And they may be complaining about you to their friends, “they ask me all the time.” So, suppress their names for multiple mailings. On the other hand, some donors (and may their numbers increase) give every time they are asked. We might add an extra appeal for that segment or invite them to become monthly donors.

One segment of donors I think about are those who are working low wage jobs who really stretch to make a donation of $35 or so. I don’t think they assume their money is being used to keep people on the mailing list who don’t give or who only give every few years. For that reason, I don’t worry about taking someone off the list who gives very infrequently.

But let’s look at how segmenting could help in the case of the person who responded to your newsletter after 12 years of silence. From now on:

  • Take all the people who have not given in two years or more and send them a friendly letter saying, “We love having people on our mailing list who want to be on it, but feel badly if we ae sending you mail you really don’t have time to look at. Can you use the enclosed card to let us know whether you want to stay on the list or not?” The card has three choices, “YES” “NO, I wish you well but have too much to read already” and, “You can move me to your e-list and will keep up with your wonderful work on-line.” I am assuming the donor you reference would have sent this card back. But there are people who are getting your newsletters who don’t want them–no offense—and they will use this as a chance to tell you that. The majority of people who haven’t given won’t send back the card because they throw away everything you send them. SO, now a segment arises: take them off your mailing list for one year, then write to them and say words to this effect, “Did you miss us? We missed you and would like to have you back on our list. Please contribute.” You want people on your list who have indicated they want to be on it, and I would say have indicated it more frequently than one gift every 13 years.

Good luck,

Kim Klein