By Joe Frye, Account Group Director, Nonprofit and Cause at Town Hall Agency a full-service marketing & advertising agency built to serve organizations that do good, shape futures, and make the world a better place.

A recent Abila study shows donors feel 71% more engaged with nonprofits when they receive personalized communications from the nonprofits they support. This is one of the key reasons that more than 60% of nonprofits already use personalization in their email marketing.

Donors feeling more engaged with organizations is a good thing. So if the question is not should you include personalized communications, it has to be how do you use personalization in your email marketing program to enhance your relationship with your supporters.

The Three Ps of Personalization

Personalization is made up of three aspects.

  1. Personalization requires people who are willing to commit to it over time. It’s not a magic bean. A one and done. Personalization is an aspect of communication that will evolve to better meet the needs of your supporters and your team.
  2. Personalization requires a process that allows your team to implement and learn from the data that you’ll collect. It’s something that needs to be integrated into your communications plan.
  3. Personalization requires a platform that allows elements to be personalized. The good news is the majority of email marketing platforms allow personalization out of the box.

Personalization Means Putting Supporters First

Personalizing communications is another way of saying you’re committed to putting your supporters first. It means getting to know them and their preferences. It means having a process and platform that allows you to record those preferences and then action them.

Every day there are more than 347,000,000,000 emails sent. In other words every current and potential supporter gets A LOT of emails so you need to stand out. You need to capture their attention to even have a chance at getting your email opened.

Yes, personalization requires data.

Google Analytics, marketing automation platforms, donor management tools, and many of the other tools/products that are used daily by nonprofits have the ability to collect the data needed for personalization. It’s in the form of tags, lists, audience segmentation, etc.. These features empower you to launch and expand your use of personalization.

Activating Personalization with Email

It can be easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start or where to go next. Here are five email elements to help:

1) [First Name] Tag

One of the most common and recognizable places to start with personalization is through the use of [First Name] tags. We’ve all gotten these emails that when you open them they say “Hi [First Name]” or if the organization does not have your name it default to “Hi Friend.”

For this post I used screencaps from Constant Contact:

A screenshot of an email for autism awareness with a "first name" tag.

This is a great place to start because it shows the recipient that you already have an existing relationship with them because you know their name. This likely means they’ve given you this information, so parroting it back to them in communications is a great way to show that you’re listening and highlight the fact that they’ve already engaged.

Try this: Instead of just putting [First Name] tags in the body of an email, try adding it to the subject line. Campaign monitor reports that personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be open and this is the most basic of personalization available.

Here’s an example of a personalized subject line – “[First Name], can you help feed a kid in need?” This structure includes the recipient’s name showing and adds a clear mission-based call to action.

2) CTA (Call to Action)

All emails should have a purpose. This means that when someone reads them they have a clear, immediate next step to take. That next step can be personalized based on what you know about the person.

Dynamic CTAs are more than 200% more likely to be clicked than static ones. This means that using CTAs to show the recipient how to expand their individual relationship with you can increase conversions. Have they given before? Have they volunteered? Are they a monthly donor?

Asking supporters for the next thing in their donor journey is key in keeping them engaged and growing their support. It shows that you recognize them and want them to continue to help support your mission.

Try this: When you’re personalizing CTAs it can be easy to just get locked into the ask amount that appears. Try testing out CTAs driving to content that includes an ask instead of just asking in the initial email.

3) Location

This is a great way to show your audience that you’re active in their local communities. It also highlights the community aspect of your supporters.

A screenshot of a "City" field on an email sign up form.

Try this: Ask your supporters to share this information in a way that highlights the desire to build a localized community of supporters. You can do this with a survey that makes this question optional.

Above is an example of how to ask for this information – “Please let us know what city you’re in so that we can keep you up to date with events/impact in your areas.”

4) Send Times

Personalization can start before the email is ever sent. Sending emails at optimal times can increase the probability of email opens.

There are several ways to do this (some systems like MailChimp have this built in). The most common way to do this is to use the scheduling feature to send the same type of email at different times of day and different days of the week. After several emails you can compare email open rates and stick with what works.

Try this: Don’t just focus on the time and day that emails are sent, but test different times of the month. Does your newsletter work better the first week or the last week? Do donation appeals work better on Monday or Thursday?

5) Interest

If you do not have interest tags added to your email system already, it is pretty simple to add a custom field and start to track them building this capacity quickly.

A screenshot of a donor profile in a CRM with "Interests" fields.

People consume content that they are interested in, so referencing the aspect of your work that interests them increases the probability that they’ll engage with the content.

Try this: Don’t just use interests as a way to highlight topics, but use data to track the type of media your supporters prefer. Don’t be afraid to ask them for this information if you can’t collect it with your analytics tools. If they’re interested in video content or infographics, make sure to highlight it in your communications.

Personalization – It’s A Mindset

Personalization is as much of a mindset as it is a set of data or a tool/platform.

If you’re not already using personalization you need to add it to your repertoire. When done right it can create a strong bond between an organization and an individual. It’s engaging. It’s impactful. It’s attainable.

About the Author

Joe Frye is the Account Group Director, Nonprofit & Cause at Town Hall Agency. He has spent more than a decade helping organizations make an impact and connect their missions with individuals. He has led award-winning projects and campaigns for organizations including PBS, Partners of the Americas, the Identity Theft Resource Center, ADL, Meal on Wheels America, UNESCO and many others.

Joe’s experience at the intersection of technology, data, and creativity provide a unique perspective that allows organizations to create impactful digital ecosystems, increase donations, grow membership, improve member retention and increase overall revenue.