No two donors are alike. Each donor has a special quality, experience, or pattern that is important. Keep notes on these details. When you organize your donor list into population segments based on similar criteria it can lead to bigger and better donations.

Creating segmented lists allows you to give each donation request letter or call for donations a personal touch. You’ll have filters in your list so that you have a better understanding of who is likely to donate what, when, and even why. Sometimes, the why is the most important feature.

Donors have different giving trends. Some donate seasonally, (think holidays) some gift small amounts a few times a year, some donate only once in a lifetime, and others have a set annual giving routine.

Segment your list into categories based on a previous response. For example, who always opens your newsletters? Who is more likely to give over the telephone, who wants to play a role in your charity or fundraising event, and who is using social media to learn and communicate with your non-profit?

Categorize donors

Your donors may fall into more than one category. That’s okay, you’ll define new ways to interact and engage them. Of course, this process takes time and effort. You can set up a spreadsheet to help iron out the similarities. For the donors who fall into more than one category, you’ll want to reach out to them in more than one way. Remember, no one wants a generic fundraising letter. We all want to feel needed and important to your organization.

Every donor will likely have a favorite organization, let it be yours! With creative filtering of your donor lists, you can give each campaign a very personal feel without writing individual letters to each person. Keep in mind, that there are always donors that will need that extra touch and personal note from you. Filtering donors into specific categories allows you to personalize the flavor of your communication.


I hope you’re doing well, I can’t wait to hear about your latest family adventures.


Non-Profit Pal


We missed you at the fundraising dinner last year, looking forward to our annual get together this fall. Let me know if it is a date!

You’ve filtered the list based on your donor’s giving history, printed the canned emails/letters that have a personal feel to them, and then you take the extra time to pop in a very personalized hand-written note showing that you remember the donor and that they are important to you. The more personalized the letter, the more likely you are to receive a quality donation.

Segmenting donors into specific database categories takes time, but it is worth the effort in the long run. You’ll have several lists with different titles (think keyword phrases). This way, when you go to make a request for a new campaign, you won’t waste your time sending a campaign to someone who will never donate for that purpose. You’ve filtered them into a segmented list of categories based on behavior and demographics.

This also limits the number of donation requests that your donor’s receive from you. The less annoying or spammy behavior you can practice, the better. If they find your methods of contact annoying, they’ll unsubscribe from your list, and never make a donation to your cause.

These filtered groups or clusters will begin to show a searchable pattern in your database.

Filtered categories might include

Email Solicitation

Social Media Campaigns

Snail Mail (Direct Mail)

Major Gift Donors

In-Kind Donors

Small Gift Donors

Monthly Gifters

Annual Gifter

Once Every Few Years

Local Donor

Web Donor

As you can see, some donors will fall into many categories. That’s okay, eventually, as you fill in your donor data, you’ll begin to see who responds to what and when.

An impersonal tweet or email campaign may be all the ask one donor needs to take action. However, another donor may become offended by this seemingly impersonal attempt at acquiring their donation money. These donor intricacies are key to your success.

Start with your records and build your lists from there. Records include staff, donors, volunteers, vendors, and anyone connected to your organization. Any of whom may become a donor or change their pattern of  giving based on your asking strategy. If you have a way of connecting to them they should be in your records database.

If you have email subscriptions from your website, you probably don’t have the information needed to segment this list into categories. But, you start with the subscriber list. As they respond to your campaigns, even if it is just by opening the email, you  add that information to your database filtering system.

For example, Jeanne Q. Donor donates every Thanksgiving but she opens every email notification sent to her. Jeanne is reading your news, she is keeping up to date on your organization. She wants to stay in the know. Perhaps, Jeanne is ready for a more personalized approach. If she makes a large contribution every year, Jeanne is an ideal candidate for a brunch or lunch ask.

On the other hand, just because someone reads your monthly newsletter every time, doesn’t mean they will ever donate. If they’ve never donated, they won’t fall into the same segmentation as our friend Jeanne.

A good way to connect with this avid reader is to offer an incentive based ask. For example, send these people free tickets to an event or some perk from your organization in return for a small donation, perhaps,  $25-50. If they take the bait, they become a first time donor. Once a first time donor, add them to that segment of your list: First TIme Donors.

Now, this donor record is filtered into two categories: Opens Every Email and First Time Donor. Hey, that record is becoming very promising- You’ll want to maintain a close relationship with this donor. Future donations are very likely.

Be careful to pick and choose wisely as you segment your lists. The same person/record may fall into many categories, you don’t want to inundate them with what they may consider annoying junk mail (spam) or over ask when they’ve given all they can, or under ask, where there is more where that came from.

Segmenting your donor list can help you avoid subscriber attrition. Pay attention to your donors or potential donor’s patterns.

Organize your database

Start with the obvious filters.

  • Most Recent Donors
  • Average Donation
  • Lifetime Donations
  • Seasonal Giving History
  • Avid Email Opener, Yet to Give
  • Donation Frequency

Filter people from these groups into demographic groups.

  • Income
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location

Next, filter these records based on type of communication response. Which call to action ended with a donation? Which call to actions were ignored.

  • Social Medial
  • Personal Phone Ask
  • In Person Meet Up
  • Email/Newsletter
  • Small Gift for Donation

Finally, filter this segment of records into a category of giving.

  • Hand-delivered Donation with Cash, Check, or Money Order
  • Check in the Mail
  • Credit Card Donation (online or over the phone)
  • Paypal

Know your list. Know its history. Learn and adapt based on this information. Edit the information regularly, keep the records up to date. Purge any information that changes: Addresses, Phone, Email. This is critical. If your donor moves to a new city, this will impact their giving patterns. As soon as information changes, edit it in the database.

Clean up your donor database

In the demographic section of your database, add notes based on your relationship with the donor. For example, if you meet for brunch, add the when, where, and why. Also, add in any personal family history that they may have shared with you.

This is crucial. They’ll likely remember the last meeting more clearly than you. Don’t offend them by not remembering things that are important to them. When you take notes, you’ll be able to pen those personal notes mentioned above. Place these notes in your database records.

Hey, Jeanne,

It was lovely meeting you at Starbuck’s last fall. I’d love to catch up on your grandkids. Is Susie still taking ice skating lessons? I’ve been thinking about Susie, I’d love to hear how she’s doing at Harvard this year.

Your Best Friend, Charity

10 Ways to Segment Your Donors to Improve Fundraising Effectiveness

Once you’ve filtered out the bad leads and found the best possible donor, a loyal friend to your organization, learn from this relationship. Keeping up to date notes in your database will improve your odds of receiving donations. Nurturing this relationship will help you understand the giving (or non-giving) patterns of the people in your record’s list. Don’t waste time on a dead lead. Focus on other records with similarities to this loyal donor to improve your fundraising effectiveness.

Tom Kelly is the founder and CEO of CharityAuctionsToday. Online and mobile auctions are all we do. We believe running an auction should be a simple process. Our platform was built for the user with no technical experience who needs a way to raise money online.