Why Nonprofit Email Segmentation is the Key to Donor Engagement

Why Nonprofit Email Segmentation is the Key to Donor Engagement

This guest post is written by Abby Jarvis from Qgiv.

Marketers know how much email has evolved, meaning they also know that sending the same, generic email to a massive list just doesn’t cut it. If people fail to see value in their inboxes, they won’t be afraid to ignore, trash, or unsubscribe.

But this phenomenon goes beyond traditional for-profit marketing. Nonprofits are also catching on when it comes to personalization, beginning to change their email tactics to promote a better donor experience.

Why? Because it’s not just consumers who want relevant content. Donors, too, are looking for highly personalized communications inside their inboxes.

Personalization could be your missing ingredient.

Subscribers of nonprofits and for-profit companies alike want relevant emails—ones that appeal to their interests and values (not to mention, a genuine connection to the organization itself). Because of this, it’s crucial that your nonprofit creates relevant material for subscribers each and every time you email them.

And if you’re unsure of the effectiveness of emails, consider this nonprofit research study from Campaign Monitor and Qgiv, which found that donors embrace communication via email. What’s more, the study found that donors actually prefer this channel over any other form of nonprofit communication.

But meeting donors where they are is only half the battle. You know donors want to communicate with your nonprofit through email, but the emails have to be high-quality, thoughtfully-cadenced, and relevant.

In other words, personalization is the missing ingredient to an email strategy that works. Not only does personalized email marketing increase click-throughs, but personalized subject lines are also 26% more likely to be opened.

So, where does personalization begin? To create dynamic content, it’s vital that you separate your subscribers based on their differences. This is an important tactic known as segmentation, which is largely available through email platforms.

But where do you start? Which subscriber segments should you be creating?

Read on to learn about popularly used segments, how you can use them to personalize your donor communications, and how you can start segmenting today.

Understanding segments and how to implement them

When it comes to email segments, the list is virtually endless. Ultimately, however, your audience should determine the segments you choose to implement, especially since each segment can accomplish different goals.

Read on to learn about your nonprofit email segmentation options, and find out which ones are right for you.


Of all the different attributes that divide people, location is perhaps one of the biggest players. Language, weather, and a dozen other aspects of location play a role in our daily lives.

Because of this, sending localized messages to your subscribers can be a highly personal way to appeal to donors. Start by creating segments that group your subscribers by various geographic locales, and keep each place in mind any time you send an email to this particular group.

Localization is an easy way to encourage subscribers to engage with your content. You may try this if you’re noticing a high unsubscribe rate: A quick bit of nonprofit email segmentation could be the difference between a generic email and a thoughtful one.

You can localize your message by sending region-specific events or updates.


Use demographics to target people of different ages and genders. This is especially helpful for nonprofits that attract donors of a certain age, or if one gender is more charitable for certain causes. (Women, for instance, often give more to causes that are female-focused.)

What if you don’t know very much about your donors? Consider sending out a survey of just a few questions, or include age and gender as non-required fields on your email signup form.

If you want to start segmenting sooner rather than later, you can likely assume your donors are made up of millennials and Gen X. In fact, Campaign Monitor and Qgiv research suggests that many donors are between the ages of 25 and 35: This demographic represents the majority of the respondents to the nonprofit survey Campaign Monitor conducted.

So, if you don’t yet have data for your nonprofit, this age group may be a good place to start.

Donor personas

Similar to the demographic-based messaging we discussed above, you can create a custom segment based on donor personas. In short, you’ll need to create personas that represent different donors on your list.

For example, if you’re targeting males 25-30 who make $60k per year, you could create and use a custom segment for them. This would allow for personalized email campaigns every time.

This approach can take various forms. Perhaps you use existing segments (e.g. demographics) to create the persona, or maybe you approach it from a goals and pain points perspective.

Whatever elements you choose to build your persona, consider implementing a donor persona checklist like Qgiv:

Source: Qgiv

Donation frequency

Collect data about how often your donors are contributing to your organization. If donors give every now and then, you may consider sending emails during times of need: perhaps when there’s a shortage of something or when your nonprofit is trying to meet a specific goal.

Luckily, you have a good chance of earning donations with this tactic: Over half of donors are likely to give after receiving a specific plea, according to the survey. However, they may also stop giving after the need is met.

For more generous donors, consider asking for larger donations, but don’t forget to tell them how their past donations have been used. And this isn’t just for financial donations, either. Take a look at email example from the American Red Cross, which thanks and updates one of their biggest in-kind donors:

Source: Twitter 

Email and website activity

Consider separating subscribers based on past email behavior. You’ll want to be sure you’re following modern regulations, of course, but this behavior-based segmentation method can make your subscribers’ experience better and more intuitive.

For instance, if you notice subscribers only open emails from you once a month, consider placing them into a segment where they only receive a monthly newsletter and the occasional donation request.

On the other hand, if you notice high engagement with every email you send, you might increase send frequency.

We discussed how email activity can be used for nonprofit email segmentation, but website activity can be just as effective. What articles are your donors reading? What stories interest them? Use this information to create specific, behavior-based segments.

Of course, these are just a few of the many different segments you can create and use, but these are simple ways to begin personalizing your donors’ experiences, easily and effectively.

How to segment your list

Segmentation can seem overwhelming at first, but many ESPs, including Campaign Monitor, make it simple. Watch the video below to start segmenting your own list today.

Wrap up

Segmentation is a simple, organized way to personalize communications for your donors. By going beyond the generic email, you show subscribers that they’re more than a donation: They’re part of your nonprofit and part of your cause.

Want to know more about donors and other nonprofits like yours? Download our nonprofit guide, based on original research from real people and organizations. Start engaging with the people who are truly are a part of your cause.

Abby Jarvis is the Nonprofit Education Manager at Qgiv, an online fundraising service provider. When she’s not working at Qgiv, Abby can usually be found writing for local magazines, catching up
on her favorite blogs, or binge-watching sci-fi
shows on Netflix.

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