Hyper-Personalization: Using Donor Data to Inspire Loyalty to your Healthcare Foundation | npENGAGE

Hyper-Personalization: Using Donor Data to Inspire Loyalty to your Healthcare Foundation

By on Jan 14, 2019


As we crawl into a new year, hyper-personalization is a buzzword slowly creeping into the charity lexicon and bound to increase its prominence as the year unfolds. In fact, some would state that hyper-personalization will be a real game changer for annual giving, aka the mass marketing portfolio, in the charitable industry.

But what does hyper-personalization mean exactly? And how can charities, like hospital foundations, use it to increase donor loyalty and generate higher return on investment (ROI)?

To properly answer these questions, we need to first understand why most annual giving solicitations currently look the way they do.

Annual Giving/Mass Marketing in the Charitable Sector

A hospital foundation’s annual giving program is a great way to illustrate how mass marketing currently works in the sector.

In most hospital foundation annual giving programs, all donors regardless of donation trigger (e.g. a grateful patient, p2p donation, event donation, tribute) are typically funnelled into the annual giving program.

The overall solicitation is usually a topic or area with broad appeal (e.g. cardiovascular disease, cancer), an emotional tugging on the heartstrings (e.g. a patient story), or a very general ask related to the priorities of the hospital or even a seasonal end-of-year ask.

It’s the fundraising equivalent of your big box office movie: you have your summer blockbuster, rom-com, or holiday season movie. Each of them targets the broadest audience possible and incorporates a set of “formulaic” elements that are known to entice people to be interested and take action (attend a screening).

In the same way, your annual giving solicitation is broad as possible to be interesting to as many people as possible, and it has a set of formulas that are scientifically proven to work (e.g. Johnson box, multiple use of “You”).

However, given that most annual giving programs are vestiges of heavy direct mail programs where costs are tied intrinsically with the cost of printing, this has deeply influenced how we view personalization.

Print costs go down when you print the same thing multiple times; they go up when you print different things one time. In order to keep costs down, all those donors, regardless of their donation trigger, are presented with the same message, in the hope that something sticks.

To provide some “oomph,” there might be some slight variation or a special “variable” paragraph in the direct mail/email/telemarketing script that references something specifically about that donor:

  • Monthly donor (<Thank you for your monthly gift that helps us saves lives every month>)
  • Lapsed donor (<Thank you for your previous donations that have saved lives>)
  • Perhaps even some reference to the Honor Roll level of the donor (<Thank you for being a member of the Governor’s Circle>)

This personalization has typically involved presenting a handful of data-points or “variables” back to the prospect or donor to make the appeal seem as if it was written with them in mind.

And this personalization often feels superficial or tied more to how the charity views its relationship to the recipient, with the recipient matching their segment audience. It’s hard to call this level of personalization “donor-centric.”

In fact, sometimes a charity’s one-dimensional view of the donor is so blatant that when assigning descriptions to each segment, descriptions which are often printed on business reply coupons, these can be as blatant as <Monthly>, <Lapsed>, or even <General>! Can you imagine the donor experience for a donor who is made aware through a “transactional” word of how a charity views them? Not very pleasant.

Hyper-personalization – Why Make the Leap Now?

Why make the move to hyper-personalization? Because you’re in an arms race for human attention.

You’re competing with multi-million-dollar campaigns- across boundaries, across nations, across mediums, across time-zones.

In this world, it’s a street brawl to remain relevant.

What if instead of the recipient matched to the segment audience, the segment was tailored to the recipient?

What if instead of reflecting only a superficial 5% connection with the donor, you were able to reflect a richer 15%, and build on past experiences to take your donor along with you?

Welcome to the world of hyper-personalization.

Implementing a Hyper-personalized Fundraising Campaign


Step 1: Data Collection

To start, you want to look at the existing data you have on donors and think strategically about what data points you want to collect.

For example, based on information on the gift record, you could find out if the donor:

  • Attended an event
  • Called the foundation to report a change in address
  • Scored the winning bid in an auction
  • Was grateful to a particular staff member or department
  • Gave in honor of someone
  • Responded to a specific appeal earlier in the year
  • Made a first gift and when

If you have the budget, you might even consider a donor survey, not to collect demographic data on all of your donors, but to collect specific information about specific donors. The more high-quality data you have, the more you can hyper-personalize your message.


Step 2: Modelling

Map out the journeys of these donors based on the giving triggers and how they have interacted with the foundation. Based on the data points you have, how are their journeys similar? How are they different? If you were to layer them on each other, what would that look like?

Imagine you’re at a party and you meet three of your close friends. They don’t know each other well but they know you. Is there a way you could talk to all 3 of them at the same time in a way that connects and unites them in general, with you as the hub, while also dipping into the specific aspects of them? Sure, and you can do the same with your donors.

One strategy is to map out how you know each of them, place these in a timeline, and then use commonalities to show various ways they relate you, and how they have progressed with you.

What happens when you think of a donor embodying these different characteristics? They could have given to an annual campaign, then given a donation in honor of someone, and later attended an event. Hyper-personalization is getting the various “selves” of the donor, “selves” that are usually siloed and compartmentalized as “event donor” and “monthly donor”, to come together as they do for the overall donor in a general solicitation.


Step 3: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Swallow!

With all the data points, it can end up becoming a market of ONE. That’s an amazing ideal to work toward, but you’ve got to find the right balance for your organization between digging too deep and being too vague. Play around with images for matches with age, gender, or culture. Gather as much as you can about your target audience. Share a photo of them from previous events or campaigns or remind them of a handwritten note they wrote. Always watch out for coming off as creepy. Sometimes, you look at a toaster on Amazon, and then toaster ads follow you on every other site you go to. Makes you want to hate toasters! Don’t leave your donors with that kind of uncomfortableness. Personalization is encouraged, stalking is not!


Step 4: Think of Messaging as not only Recollection but also Recalibration

Part of hyper-personalization is reflecting information back to the recipient of the annual giving appeal to show prior involvement (“Thank you so much for your $1000 donation honoring Dr. Smith and the work she does” or “Thank you so much for bidding and winning gift cards as part of the Safe Breasts event on June 4 that raised money for Breast Cancer research”) that pushes to additional action today. The action in the past for some donors (event attendance/designated donation) isn’t exactly the same as the action we require today (an undesignated donation). To fill this gap is to recalibrate by pivoting the donor’s past experience and connecting it to the experience today of making a donation: (“You might be surprised to know, but gifts from people like you are crucial to help with the priority needs of the hospital. When you make such a donation, one that isn’t designated for a particular department or area, it allows the hospital the flexibility to deal with underfunded, though important programs at the hospital”).


Step 5: Always be Testing

If it isn’t working, change it. Enough said.

Hyper-personalization is an increasing trend that is separating great fundraisers from average fundraisers. The right analytics run on your donor database can provide personalization strategies that elevate your program throughout the upcoming year.

Look at these 5 Metrics Fundraisers Need to Know to Retain Their Donors for more food for thought on inspiring loyalty and retaining your donors.


Khalil Guliwala is the Development Officer overseeing Annual Giving at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation in Quebec, Canada. This foundation connects donors to one of the world’s foremost academic health centres affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University. 

He is a non-profit data analyst and communications specialist with 6 years of experience spearheading complex data analysis and writing for external, internal, and fundraising publications. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Nature Canada, one of Canada’s leading environmental NGOs. 

Comments (2)

  • Jessica Rawn, CFRE says:

    Great points, ideas and suggestions. Data when treated with respect, kept clean, is collected well and used thoughtfully offers such a wealth of opportunity! Thanks for this article.

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