Marketing is evolving rapidly, but I don’t have to tell you that! The number of channels we have to work with is growing so fast that even the term multi-channel marketing seems like an understatement. Donors expect you to understand their interactions across your entire organization and to reflect that in your communications. And numerous studies have shown that doing this well yields increases in retention rates and lifetime value.

So how do we deal with this proliferation of channels and the need to increase personalization?

As someone who’s been around long enough to feel sea levels rising, I see a number of opportunities to help navigate the changing waters. The buzz around Customer Journey, Customer Engagement and Marketing Automation is well deserved. Behind the sizzle, there is substance. Let’s take a look.

1.  The Customer Journey

The Customer Journey maps a series of touch points along which the customer (or, in our case, supporter) moves from awareness to attention to action. Organizations should put a lot of energy into making every interaction on this journey as seamless and fruitful as possible, identifying the practices that keep people engaged. Donors expect attention in return for their support.

Why you should care

To convert and retain donors, in our busy, over-communicated-to world, we have to build relationships with them—relationships that grow as their relationship with your organization grows. To do this, we need to take advantage of the information we know about your supporters across your entire organization—their interests, interactions, why they respond—and use it to build meaningful relationships.

The good news is that fundraisers now have access to enormous amounts of data and new technologies capable of understanding that data at an individual level—giving us insight into how, where, and when a donor interacts with your organization—so we can personalize messages.

This frees us from the traditional, linear way of implementing marketing campaigns—for example, using cost effective digital channels, we can move from calendar-based promotions to one-to-one communications based on interactions your donors have had with you.

Let’s say that, traditionally, your events department sent a mail piece in May to announce your fall marathon, soliciting support. Today, because we know who ran the marathon and fundraised the previous year—and because we have their email addresses—we can communicate with them throughout the year in online fundraising activities. We can thank them for running as soon as the race is over. In the spring, we can let them know coaching programs have begun. In the summer, we can send them a link to custom fundraising web pages. Of course, we can still send out special appeals to donors and prospects as needed. Success depends on our ability to mix the new with the old. To attract and retain donors, we need to use our multi-channel tools to take them on the journey.

2. Customer Engagement

If the journey is what drives interactivity, then Customer Engagement is the “why”. It is a measure of how much, how intensely, and how often your constituents interact with you. Is a donor just giving you money or are they truly engaged? My colleague Chuck Longfield described this many years ago as their passion—how connected they feel to your mission and much they feel valued by your organization. In a broad sense, it is a measure of how they respond to your marketing efforts, visit your website for information, attend your events, and lend you their time.

Why you should care

Engaged supporters are your lifeblood. They donate more. They talk about you. They are, potentially, lifelong donors. And, while we have always been concerned about how engaged constituents are, in the past, we generally looked at which marketing campaign a donor responded to and repeated it. For example, if someone responded to a calendar mailing, we probably sent a similar direct mail piece the next year, with a similar ask. But is this enough?

Today, we are interested in continuous conversations across many channels. Traditional marketing campaigns push information down a one-way street, but the reality is that engagement is a busy intersection. If we want donors to be more engaged with us, then we need to change the way we engage with them.

To do that, we must develop strategies to engage with them where they are in their journey and how they want to be communicated with. For example, if we know Steve donates online in addition to volunteering at his local food bank, we have something to talk to Steve about and a way to do it. If we know Melody consistently shares stories about cancer research via Facebook and signs our online petitions, we know more about what she responds to and what actions she is willing to take on our behalf.

3. Marketing Automation

I think of marketing automation as the “how”—how we execute on our multi-channel strategy to keep constituents engaged and deepen our relationships with them along their journey. Because, faced with a massive amount of data when we track individual contributions, clicks, and other interactions, we have to have a “how.” We can do it, but we need technology that let us see the actions individual supporters take across many channels and trigger the next best interaction.

Why you should care

Knowing and delighting your donors helps raise more money and increase engagement. To those nonprofits that can extract and analyze behavioral trends from huge amounts of data, and then act on them, go the rewards. We need actionable data that leapfrogs our strategies beyond RFM, and we need to be able to access it quickly and painlessly. We need to utilize information about constituent behavior and how they engage with organizations in order to communicate with them in a way that increases engagement and net revenue. The good news is that there are new tools that can do this quickly and accurately, so we can reach donors with highly personalized and compelling messages.

Buzz kill?

If you’re like me, it’s easy to tune out overused phrases and terms—personally, I’m about done with bandwidth, buy-in, and thinking outside the box—but I invite you to look at the concepts behind the buzzwords we’ve been talking about, the Supporter Journey, Supporter Engagement, and Marketing Automation. In my next post, I’ll review how nonprofits can move the needle in these important areas and the new technologies that are emerging to support them.


Wendy Fox is Blackbaud’s Vice President of Information Management and Strategic Services. After a long career with Epsilon, she joined Target Software in 2001 to build the data management services group which went on to become an industry leader. She continued to grow and expand these services after Target Software was acquired by Blackbaud in 2007. Wendy holds a BA in Computer Science and an MS in Business Administration and Management. She has more than 20 years’ experience working with nonprofits and serves on the board of Strategies for Children. She is passionate about innovative technologies that increase access to information, improve decision-making, and enhance the donor experience.

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