Making Donors Feel Like Tiny Fish In A Big Crowded Pond

In his book, Robots Make Bad Fundraisers, Steven Shattuck describes a piece of communication he received from a nonprofit, it read:

Whether you have donated today, previously given, or still plan to give, we thank you for your ongoing support.

This kind of writing happens when nonprofits list all the possible reasons for sending out a piece of collateral. It is usually done because the nonprofit doesn't have the tools to "segment" their audience. "Segmenting" is a term that refers to dividing your donors up into groups so you can communicate uniquely with them.

Why does this matter? Because:

The lack of personalized communications is one of the core reasons that donors stop giving.

Nonprofits who segment their donors into unique groups have taken a significant step toward increasing their donor retention rates.

Remember, the average donor retention rate for the nonprofit sector is 45%.

This means that, without special care, only four out of ten of your present donors will still be engaged with you next year.

In different numbers, that means your 100 engaged donors, without real work, will likely shrink to 40 in one year. OMG! Nonprofit leaders live the exhausting life of trying to find more new donors each year while even more leave out the back door.

One of the biggest reasons we will lose donors: The lack of personalized communications.

It does not have to be this way.

Just this week, I received an annual contribution letter with my 2020 giving listed that began, "Dear Supporter." I intuitively understood that the organization wrote the letter to cover everyone. I am one of the many. This is a form letter written to the crowd.

"Dear Supporter." What? I gave hard-earned money, and you STILL don't know my name?

To use Steven Shattuck's phrasing, it made me feel like…

I am one tiny fish in a great big crowded pond.

Sending the same communications to all your donors makes them feel like tiny fish in a great big crowded pond. We can fix this.

The answer is to have a communication plan and segment your mailing list. Segmentation is where having excellent donor software comes in so handy! Using Excel for your donor records makes it a little harder, but you can do it!


(From Beginners Guide To Nonprofit Data Segmentation, Bloomerang)

1. Create Your Segments

Some of the most common:

  • First-time donors

  • Monthly donors

  • Lapsed donors

  • Volunteers

  • Donors who have shared feedback

  • Social media followers

  • Long term donors

2. Use mail-merge fields for personalization.

This is too easy, even with excel. Instead of "Dear Supporter," insert their first name. There is great power in calling people by their name. When someone calls us by name, we feel special.


  • Dear Supporter

  • Dear Friend

Just don't... Remember the tiny fish... Remember the crowded pond…

3. Craft custom communications to each segment

Now you can stop sending the same gift acknowledgment, appeal, newsletter to every person on your database. Why? For the same reasons, you wouldn't send the same birthday greeting to all your friends, coworkers, relatives, AND YOUR MOTHER!

Each segment has collateral tailor-made to suit them! This is true donor love!! Donors don't leave organizations that truly love them!

Not only content, but timing. Now, donors will receive communication made for them only when it makes sense to receive them.

You will transition from what Shattuck calls "a spray-and-pray communicator to a strategic donor love champion."


Bloomerang and Steven Shattuck have created a free guide that you can download for free. Stop making donors feel like a tiny fish in a big crowded pond! Start creating better communications today!


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