How Data Can Personalize the Donor Experience

Article, Featured

The fourth article in our series with Charity Digital looks at how data can help charities provide a personalized experience for their donors

Personalization is more than a name at the top of an email. Today in the charity sector, personalization means talking about ‘the donor journey’—the cycle your audience goes through when supporting your charity.

It starts with the moment they find you—the ‘awareness’ stage—and continues with the moment they decide to donate. The key to preserving the cycle is building a relationship with your donors so that they repeat donations and continue to donate long into the future.

Personalization helps charities build that relationship by tailoring your content to donors, depending on where they are on that journey. Once supporters have donated, it is about sending thank yous, showing them what they’ve funded, and re-engaging them further down the line.

Of course, all of these actions need data to back them up. Your charity has two types of data that will help inform how you engage with your supporters: explicit and implicit. The focus for charities should be on finding explicit data, with donor consent, which charities can use to personalize journeys.

Explicit data is what donors give to you themselves, such as contact information, age, name, and address. Implicit data deals with data that, when analyzed, allows you to glean additional data.

It’s very important to note that both explicit and implicit data are personal data and the use of personal data for marketing to your donors or customers will require you to be familiar, and comply with a variety of data protection and privacy laws.

Valuable data doesn’t mean all data

Given the sheer amount of data that charities are looking after, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. So it is good practice to clean up your data first.

Make sure you know exactly what data you need and remove what is superfluous to the task. You don’t need everything and it’s not good practice to have or collect more data than you need for your purpose.

This is another area where you should consult experts or resources to understand and adhere to any restrictions on processing personal data.

CRM systems

Start with your CRM system. This is home to all your established contacts, their names, ages, email, and donation history. This is all valuable information but bear in mind that CRM systems only know your current contacts. If using your CRM to analyze audience behaviors, it can only predict based on data of people who consensually agreed to give their data for the purposes of the CRM. So its assistance in helping you reach more people will be limited.


Your website is another good place to find information. The ‘Data-Driven Personalization Survey’, conducted by marketing firm Ascend2, found that more than half of marketing professionals believe website activity is the most important data used for personalization efforts.

With a sign-in process, charities can find out the names and email addresses of those who have been interacting with content and tailor their communications to those people. The resulting correspondence can give visitors content better suited to their needs, as long as the audience members gives consent for the charity to do so.

Another important area is using anonymous, or aggregate, website data, which allows charities to understand audience behavior without targeting individuals. So, for example, look at Google Analytics and discover your page views, time spent on particular web pages, the scroll depth, bounce rate, and much more. Investigate and use the data to draw broader conclusions about audience behavior.

Social media

Social media can also provide great insight about a charity’s audience. Charity Facebook pages and interactions on Twitter and Instagram can show you what content is shareable and what drives people to your site. This is another use for broad anonymized data, which allows charities to understand trends and patterns, which can inform longer-term strategies and set the charity on the path to success.

Most social media data is important.  Ensure that you look at the charity’s own accounts and the mentions and reposts that come through others. Using special referral links, or UTMs, can show you what people are clicking and what site they’ve come from.

There are also lots of social media management platforms that data can be extracted from, such as Buffer, TweetDeck, and Hootsuite. You can use data from past posts to refine future posts, allowing the past to inform your present posts and future scheduling processes.

How does personalization pay off?

Personalization is the key to taking your fundraising to the next level. It can build a more solid relationship between a charity and its supporters, while also helping the organization tailor its ask. Instead of sending out blanket requests, it can tailor its asks to their audience.

In a pandemic, such considerations are crucial. The pandemic affected the way that charities like SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, asked for help from their supporters, knowing that it may be a time when they are struggling themselves. Being able to personalize their communications can make a big difference.

What are the three core tips for using data for personalization?

  • Clean your data: sending out duplicate messages or using the wrong name defeats the aim of personalization
  • Use the data you have intelligently: find out what makes your different audiences tick and tailor your contact with them accordingly
  • Be transparent: be honest and open about how you use data


CTA: Find out more about how to use your data effectively