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How to Segment Your Donors & Personalize Communication to get Higher Response Rates

In smaller non-profits, board members can craft a personalized letter for every donor. With larger organizations, however, this is impossible. It’s unlikely your board knows every donor personally, and who has the time to write that many letters? So, what’s the solution?

It’s simple: A database that allows you to segment your donors, create tailored communication and personalize each letter with donor information.


Let’s face it: Not all donors are alike. Some are wealthy, some are poor. Some are older; some are younger; some give annually while others give only for a specific set of needs. Communicating with all of them in the same way would, therefore, be a bad idea. If you want to engage them, show you appreciate them, and that you’re paying attention, then the way you communicate needs to be much more personal.

Here’s where segmentation comes in. Segmentation allows you to group your donors based on knowledge you have about them. So you can, for example, send a personalized message to monthly donors who are not board members, or lapsed donors who are interested in naming opportunities. A good database will allow you to capture this information, and segment your donors based on any number of segments. Here are just a few ways to segment your donor base:

Segment by Giving Amount

Donors who give above X
Donors who give below X
Major donors
Top donors

Segment by Timing

have (not) given in last six months
have (not) given in last 30 days

Segment by Types of Giving

Monthly donors
Annual donors
Donors who have made a bequest
Donors who have given to a particular fund
Capital donor
Donor to a particular event

Segment by Relationship to Your Organization

Legacy donor (parents gave)
Volunteer donor
Board donor
Past board donor
Alumni donor
Member donor
Lapsed member donor

Segment by Relationship to People in Your Organization

Friend of board member
Friend of staff
Relative of board or staff
Ex-spouse of board or staff

Segment by Donor’s Area of Interest

Direct action
Bricks and mortar projects
Naming opportunities
Specific programs or projects
Specific groups of clients (giving to youth programs, disabilities, etc.)

Tailoring Communication for the Donor Group

Once you have segmented your donors, you’ll want to craft letters that appeal directly to each group’s particular needs, interests, and giving ability. While the letters will have a great deal in common, they will also directly target the donor group with information and an ask that’s appropriate and meaningful to that group. Here are just a few examples of how you might want to tailor letters for the particular types of donors you are speaking to:

Legacy donor: focus on the history of the organization and the ways in which long term giving is important to maintaining programs that mean a great deal to the community.

Board donor: thank the board member for his/her service, and focus on the important work that has been undertaken in the years since he/she came on board. Stress the importance of board donorship as form of leadership and a way to improve the organization’s chances of winning large grants.

Donor interested in specific types of programs or projects: review how their donations have been used in the past year, with special reference to their area of interest. Thank them for their support, and describe plans for the coming year to be accomplished with their help.

Other Ways to Tailor Communication

Even after you’ve identified your donor as a member, a volunteer, or a casual giver, you can do even more in the way of personalizing your ask:

1. Many non-profits actually tailor their reply cards to each individual donor’s giving history. They offer three giving options, placing the most recent amount in the middle, with a higher and lower option above and below. This makes it easier for the donor to consider a modestly higher gift without having to check his giving history.

2. Some non-profits check to see whether the donor has given recently, and how often he/she gives. If she gave in the past but has stopped giving in the last year, now is a good time to invite her to rejoin the fold with a generous donation.

3. Membership management nonprofits typically check to see how long donors have been members, whether their memberships are up for renewal, or whether they have lapsed. No matter what the case, now is a good time to thank long term members or suggest renewal.

Personalizing Your Communication

Lastly, once you have crafted tailored communication for each segment, you’ll want to personalize each piece with donor information like name, address, salutation, and giving amount. Writing “Dear Donor” won’t cut it. If you want to increase response rates, you’ll have to do better than that. A good database will let you include as much personal information from the donor profile as you’d like.

Want to start getting more personal with your donors? Check out how you can do it all – segment donors, create tailored templates, and personalize communication with Sumac here.

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