How to Select the Right Audience for Your Planned Giving Marketing

Today we welcome a special guest to the blog, Stelter Client Strategist, Renee Durnin, CFRE: fierce fundraiser, survey specialist and data-driven marketing maven.

What aspect of your marketing mix can often go quietly overlooked, but actually makes the most difference where it counts? You guessed it: Audience selection.

It’s common to become preoccupied with how our marketing looks, because we can quickly and easily see this. Delving into the audience selection side of marketing is difficult. Data resides in a huge database that must be sorted through to figure out how to extract the right info. But this hard work is necessary, and determines your marketing’s success.

Recently, I worked on a campaign overhaul for a large international relief organization. This overhaul multiplied their results by 5X their past efforts. Improving their audience selection accounted for 60% of that increase.

So, if you’re wondering why your results aren’t what you’d like them to be, start with your list. Today I’ll be sharing why, where and how to find the right audience. Plus, level up your list with my 3 pro tips below.

Why is audience selection important?

It’s not just important—it’s crucial. Targeting the right audience in your marketing efforts contributes to more than 40% of your success (see below). The message and how it’s presented won’t matter if you’re not sending it to the right people—audience selection is the linchpin that helps everything work.

Where will I find the right audience?

In databases that capture constituents’ interactions with your organization. The primary source is often your donor gift database, but some organizations have separate databases for digital engagements (e.g., events, petitions, etc.) or volunteer information.

This means a vital collaborator for tapping into your best planned giving prospects will be your database manager. Respect their knowledge of the data that’s available and help them better understand planned giving and your goals.

How do I select the right audience?

Many different elements can be considered based on your budget and the planned giving vehicle featured in your marketing piece, but it’s best to begin with the three core elements that target a donor’s readiness for planned giving:

1. Loyalty/Affinity

  • Number of years giving or volunteering = 5+
  • Number of lifetime gifts given =
  • 15+ for most nonprofit organizations
  • 5+ for higher education or other organizations with less frequent (yet often higher-value) giving

2. Age

  • Most prolific PG marketing responders = 60+
  • Broader PG education messaging = 50+

3. Recency of Giving

  • Last gift = within 3 to 5 years. Some PG donors go silent on outright giving after placing you in their estate plans.

After these elements are considered, you may need adjust to meet your budget. Your audience can be narrowed based on donor affinity, whether they are an active volunteer or are an alumnus of your organization (see chart below for more examples).

Source: Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.

What pitfalls exist in audience selection?

Dirty data leads to poor results.

1. Sending duplicates = irritated donors + extra cost. Ensure constituents at the same mail address are merged to one ID in your database.

2. Sending to invalid mailing addresses = poor deliverability + extra costs. Upload mailing address updates into your database after each marketing effort.

3. Deploying digitally to:

  • unsubscribed emails = violation of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 + irritated donors. Honor opt-out requests by flagging this in your database.
  • bounced emails = nothing delivers. Remove these email addresses from your database.
  • unengaged emails = poor deliverability for all your campaigns. Internet service providers monitor opens. If you consistently send to people not opening your emails, those providers assume you are not practicing good list hygiene and will begin blocking all or most of the messages you send.

After each marketing effort, Stelter provides its clients with these key email activity metrics. It is critical for you to have a way to review these metrics and evaluate those who seem most unengaged. Your next step is to clean up your database, or you’ll continue to face these pitfalls.

3 Pro Tips to Level Up Your List: 

1. High “Do Not Contact/Solicit” flagging may contribute to poor results too. Often a donor’s DNC or limited-contact request concerns solicitations. Planned giving marketing is not a solicitation for a gift, however, and usually offers the donor a service or tool to help them.

2. Run your planned giving audience selection and review the percentage of donors suppressed due to DNC flagging. If it’s more than 5% of your best planned giving prospects, have a discussion with your outright giving department about easing this suppression.

3. To help further fine-tune your print and digital lists, look for those qualified donors who have consistent digital activity over the past two years. These individuals are ripe for a conversation.

For Even More List Inspiration

Brush up on the 3 rules of direct marketing or check out “How to Get Your Emails Into Your Donor’s Inbox.” Do you have any more pointers for keeping a pristine list? Don’t be shy. Share them below!

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