Driven Mad by Over-Segmentation, Part 1: Key Questions

Segmentation is a given in any annual giving direct mail solicitation effort. Everyone knows you need to tailor the message to the audience? Right?

Maybe. Of course no one would dispute the value of tailored communications, but in my experience in the fundraising world I’ve seen a lot of untested assumptions and a lot of incredibly complicated (I would argue excessively complicated) segmentation, sometimes seemingly only for segmentation’s sake!

At the heart of the matter of annual giving/direct marketing in the fundraising business are three common (and fairly obvious) objectives:

  1. Raise as much money as possible.
  2. Minimize solicitation costs.
  3. Analyze results and refine tactics accordingly.

Splitting constituents into segments based on one or more shared characteristics (e.g. alumni vs. parents vs. staff, LYBUNT vs. SYBUNT vs. non-donor, school of law vs. college of arts and sciences, grateful patients, and myriad combinations of all of these) is the primary strategy for achieving these objectives. A tremendous amount of time, effort, and, often, frustration goes into producing these segments (not to mention money. The more variable the content, the greater the cost typically is to produce and deliver a mailing). You’re likely very familiar with how long it takes and how hard it is to produce segmented mailing lists such that each constituent lands in the correct segment within your defined hierarchy and lands in only one segment. Then there are issues with two constituents in the same household in different segments….. And so on. It can get a bit crazy.

I think we need to pause and ask two basic questions:

  1. Do we really know whether we’re getting meaningful ROI on our segmentation?
  2. Are we even set up to determine the answer to #1?

These are fundamental questions for any advancement operation that strives to become more data-driven, and I will explore them further in my next post on this subject.

Brandon Ferris, Senior Director of Strategic Services and Fundraising Counsel