At The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, fundraising is all about data and their data is all about their donors. The Museum uses their data to get know their donors at a deeper level: what they care about, what motivates them, and how to keep them engaged with their organization.

“We test every single mailing,” says Terri Burton, Associate Vice-President of Membership and Fundraising Events.

The Museum is extremely precise in their message to ensure their mission is breaking through the noise and remaining relevant with their donors.

“If you can’t build a connection, it becomes a transactional relationship,” Terri explained.

While the Museum has always been data driven, in 2015 they took it to another level. To start off the year, the evaluated their entire database and their fundraising performance in the past year. Based on their historical trends, they set specific goals around three key areas: acquisition, retention, and conversion of mid-level givers to major donors.


At The National World War II Museum, they fundraise at a national level. “It’s not about supporting a physical space. It’s about preserving the memory of the most significant thing that happened in the 20th century.” By keeping their acquisition appeals focused on the donor’s personal connection to World War II, instead of exclusively on what happens inside the museum, their prospect pool grows substantially. To reach their ambitious acquisition goals, the Museum knew they needed to invest. While the Museum had previously sent three mailings per year focused on finding new donors, this year they increased that to five. Additionally, instead of mailing an average of 1 million pieces per mailing, they sent out 1.2 million.

While the mailings were larger, the Museum was still extremely targeted in identifying the individuals to mail. To identify new potential donors at a national level, the Museum does modeling based on their current data. They work with outside vendors to acquire new lists that match the demographics of current donors, specifically looking for individuals that match their average age or that have shown an interest in similar nonprofits, such as a preservation or historical organizations.

Shaping the message for the mailing is equally scientific. Each mailing contains a control group and a test group. The test group will receive a slightly tweaked message, and the results of that test will be carefully analyzed, compared to the core, and then used to inform the message of the next message.

The targeted investment saw great rewards for the Museum, which increased new member acquisition last year from 20,000 new members to 35,000 new members.


Successful fundraising requires more than acquisition; the Museum knew they needed to be doing more to get past that first gift and keep donors engaged long term. This year, the Museum added new communications focused on onboarding a new donor, giving them a defined transition time before pulling them into campaigns with longer term donors.

Part of that onboarding includes asking the donor to complete a survey so the Museum can understand their interests better and incorporate that information into future campaigns.

At the time of a first donation, the Museum asks the donor if they would like to honor a World War II veteran. The name given is then added the Honor Roll of Charter Members, a permanent listing in the Museum and on its website dedicated to honoring those who fought in World War II or helped on the Home Front. This special privilege not only gives donors and the Museum a way to say thank you to veterans, it also gives the donor a personal and emotional connection to the Museum. Future asks also reference the Honor Roll and the person they have honored, further strengthening that emotional connection.

As a result, the Museum’s retention rate increased from 52 to 55% in 2015.

Focus on High Value Members

Another key focus for the Museum was high value members, which is defined as Charter Members contributing $100-$999. As always, the Museum went to the data. Messaging for these high value members was tweaked to focus on appreciation of loyalty.

With this segment, a little can go a long way. A small increase in the average number of gifts for donors that give $100 or more, combined with the increase in retention, resulted in a total of $2.7M in contributions from the segment for the Museum – an 18% increase from the previous year.

End of Year Campaigns

For end of year this year, the Museum incorporated all of their tested strategies. End of year for the Museum begins with Veterans Day campaigns, then moves to #GivingTuesday, and finally to the true calendar end of year.

This year, the Museum relaunched an existing campaign called $10 for Them, which provides funding to allow World War II veterans free admission into the Museum. This year they also broadened it to include funding the collection of oral history by interviewing our remaining veterans. This campaign is primarily online. This particular message has really resonated with the Museum’s patrons, allowing the Museum to continue their free admission program and accelerate their oral history collection, which is something that has a distinct sense of urgency as fewer World War II veterans are with us to provide their stories.

Using data to make it personal

As soon as you lose the ability to connect with your donors at an emotional level, it becomes transactional. You have to remind them why they gave in the first place. – Terry Burton

For The National World War II Museum, understanding their donors is crucial to building that connection. Data, survey, and analysis are what make that possible, and the results speak for themselves.

For more insight into how fundraising fared this past year, take a look at Blackbaud’s Charitable Giving Report: How Nonprofit Fundraising Performed in 2015

The 2015 Charitable Giving Report includes more than $18.2 billion in total fundraising and $2.2 billion in online giving data from 2015 and features key statistics on year-over-year charitable giving broken down by nonprofit size and sector. Special features this year include Canadian giving, #GivingTuesday, and mobile giving.


Laura joined Blackbaud in 2013 as the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Arts & Cultural Solutions. Previously, Laura spent two years at Dell, most recently as the Lead Pricing Manager for North American Consumer Desktops. Before receiving her Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura worked for 5 years in non-profit arts. During that time, Laura worked as the Associate Director of Finance at Austin Lyric Opera and in Finance/Accounting at the Dallas Theater Center. Laura is also a proud graduate of Texas A&M, where she received her Bachelor’s of Business Administration, Magna Cum Laude and with honors.

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