One of the real lessons from Obama fundraising

By now the fundraising tips to be gleaned from Obama’s 2012 fundraising strategy have been picked over by just about everyone.

You know — the casual tone in emails, unconventional subject lines like “hey” and “wow,” the low-dollar asks, the testing, and more. That’s all very interesting. But it’s not the good stuff. This is.

The Obama fundraising team in 2012 segmented their files based on their donors’ interests. They amassed mountains of data from every conceivable source – donors’ zip codes, surveys, event attendance, Facebook, responses given to canvassers, and more. Even better, this data, after it was compiled and analyzed, was made available in one place for the fundraising team. Even better still, the whole endeavor was imperceptible to the donor. So when a donor interested in, say, climate change got an email about green technologies, she simply thought Obama was singing her song. Not a bad way to engage donors, and it obviously worked.

This was done through a complex data and analytics methodology, of course — something that would be beyond the reach of many nonprofits.

But let’s blue-sky just for a moment about what it would be like.

Instead of using tactics to reach Millennials, Baby Boomers, or whatever the next generational cohort is … and instead of approaching donors based on a numerical score indicating when they gave last and how much, we could go a lot deeper. We could engage donors on their own terms on the basis of what moves them personally and what they’re passionate about.

Let’s say we have a donor, Sally, who decides to attend a walk-a-thon for heart disease.

Does it really matter whether she’s 20, 30, or 60 years old? Why should her generational label determine how we communicate with her in subsequent appeals? And really, how important is it to know that she gave $10 five weeks ago?

Wouldn’t it be far more useful to know that Sally took part in this event because her husband has heart disease and she wants to know about research and treatment for arteriosclerosis?

When Sally starts getting appeals talking about breakthroughs in unclogging arteries  — an interest that goes right to her core — would she see them as an intrusion? Or would those appeals seem intensely relevant, immediate, and significant? You know the answer. When we can directly address donors’ personal interests and values, that’ll be a song they listen to.

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