How does one donation stand out from thousands?

October 17, 2011

As the gifts poured in following a membership appeal I created a few years back to approximately 70,000 individuals, one donation in particular stood out.  It was a check written out for $137.33 from a local business owner.  We had experimented with including the local businesses in our mailing for the first time.

We ran a check of our database.  Nada.  The business owner had never donated before.  We wondered if perhaps he had meant to pay a bill and accidentally written in our name.  It was a mystery.

So I paid a visit.  Turned out to be a delightfully eclectic antique shop located in the heart of town with, as you might imagine, a delightfully eccentric owner, Harry.  When I thanked him for his gift and inquired about the amount he laughed.  Every year, he explained to me, he would make a charitable gift to a charity he had never donated to before.  The amount?  He was off in reconciling his bank statement and had exactly $137.33 left over.

Chances are you won’t run across a donor with motivations quite like Harry’s.  But many organizations forget that all donors are not created equal.  While our focus has largely been on crafting the perfect story, we never want to forget that we’re writing to different individuals.

Mal Warwick reminds us that:  “segmentation is based on one simple truth:  some people give more money than others.”

Think about how you might segment your own organization’s database:

  • Major donors
  • Loyal donors
  • Lapsed donors
  • Prospective donors
  • Donors who have made a one-time tribute or memorial gift, perhaps via Facebook
  • Vendors and local businesses
  • Board members and friends of board members

Every one of these donors has a different motivation for giving to your organization, something that you’ll want to keep in mind as you write to them.

As a postscript to this story, Harry did mention that, out of all of the random donations he had sent out over the years, he had never before received a personal visit.  I should also tell you that Harry became one of our agency’s most loyal donors.


Want more fun, actionable, do-it-now tips to build your donor base?  Download Simple Development Systems and find out why one reviewer called it the “Bible” for the one-person shop!

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