In addition to looking for that sweet spot somewhere between “that nonprofit doesn’t know me and takes me for granted” and “that nonprofit has clearly been looking through my underwear drawer again,” the most grievous sin you can make in customizing and personalizing is being wrong. Thus, a disclaimer that these techniques should really only be used when you are confident in the data used to customize.
When looking at your donor’s sweet spot, there is another optimization to be navigated – the cost of additional personalization versus the return. Like all else that is good and pure of this world, the way to determine this is through testing. But there is one way to maximize the bang for your customization buck, which is to customize only one side of, or page of, a letter. If the printer can do most of your mail piece without variable printing your costs come down substantially.
Of course, these additional costs are nearly non-existent online or on the phones, where your customization is limited only by your imagination, the time you want to invest in creating different versions, and whether your telemarketers will rise up and overthrow you if you have a different script for every call. I say this last only partly jokingly, in that some experienced callers will use the script with which they are comfortable rather than the script they are asked to use. Thus, online can have the purest, cheapest testing, so please, please, please test your online asks.
Here are some simple customizations that I have seen increase response rate to the point that they more than paid for themselves:
- Name: Duh. Infants as young as five months old selectively listen for their own name and this is fully developed by 13 months. From then until up to 120 years later, we listen, watch for, and seek out our own name. That name is very, very infrequently Current Resident or Friend.
- Donation history: If someone has been a long-term donor, it’s great to recognize this. You want to do this casually, as in “You’ve stood for an end to feline boredom for over a decade. Will you join us again when we need you most”, not as in “Since you joined EFB 13 years and three months ago,” as that gets creepy. If you have something like a member card or supporter club, acknowledging that someone has been “member since 2001” will usually lift response.There is a special version of this that is also very effective – playing back to people that they contributed to the same campaign last year, e.g., “you had your gift matched last year; now is another opportunity to double your impact on adult-onset flatulence.” Here, you are reminding the person that they are the type of good person that donates to things like the thing they are reading or hearing.
- Mission area: If you know how someone came into the organization or what they care about, it’s vitally important to play that back to them. Animal organizations, in particular, customize their messages to cat people and to dog people, knowing that each has their own reasons for supporting the cause.
- Location: I saw a .5% percentage point increase in response rate when someone knew that the story we were using happened right in their state. Of course, this can require 50 different versions, so perhaps you’ll want to start with more easily variabilized copy. Even easier is to reference the city and/or state in the copy without specifying the story.
- Contribution level: This is partly for the donor or potential donor. You don’t want to insult someone who would normally donate $20 by asking them for $1000, nor a $1000 for $20. I once received an acquisition piece from my local Boy Scout organization that asked for $250 as the lowest donation level. On an acquisition piece. With no return envelope. Needless to say, while I was not helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, or obedient, I was thrifty. This is also for your benefit. You want to maximize the donation(s) from a donor, gradually increasing their giving over time as their trust in and love for you grows. That process can be undermine by asking for the wrong gift at the wrong time.
In fact, there is an entire art to ask strings, one that we will cover tomorrow.