Does Personalization Work?

Does Personalization Work?

“This year, we are asking the board to personalize our appeal letters (beyond the major donor) and, in connection with discussion about the extra staff time, logistics, etc., a new board member asked if we knew what the difference was in response rate. I remember you giving us information indicating an increased response to personalized as compared with non-personalized appeal letters during the fund raising seminar you led for us but cannot find it. Would you do me the favor of sending me that info?”


Thanks for the question.


This is going to come across as one of those “just take my word for it” cop-outs, but the truth is that the more personal the message and delivery, the better an appeal will do – both in terms of gross response rate and in terms of net fundraising results. After face-to-face and telephone appeals, handwritten letters (the whole letter) is best, followed by handwritten notes on a typed letter, followed by longish typed letters, and so on. How much better? It depends on many factors, but I’ve seen claims of 50% to several hundred percent. In a qualitative sense, it is ALWAYS true that the return on investment (of time) is worthwhile.


I have not seen data that is land trust specific, but the above three links have data that should prove interesting nonetheless. The first is from a Christmas appeal sent to donors of a London-based organization working with the blind. The second is from a best practices essay published by RaisersEdge. And the third is a 2004 study on personalization of electronic (email) fundraising. I would not trust any such studies quantitatively as predictive models, but I WOULD and DO recommend that you use the information as a basis for your own testing. Segment your appeals audience several ways. Use the information in your database to craft more personalized messages. Test these individualized letters, with and without handwritten notes, against a control group.


Having said all that, notice that increased personalization makes good intuitive sense for marketing anyway – especially in today’s world. Facebook is as popular as it is precisely because it is so highly personalized. You are far more likely to do or try something (a novel or a new restaurant, for example) because someone you know recommends it than because you got a typed letter in the mail about it.


Hope this helps.



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