Email personalization: The key to engaging donors

The experts all agree: If you’re a campaign or organization, personalization is one of the most effective ways to engage one-on-one with the supporters on your email list. Personalization helps your emails stand out in a busy inbox and increases open rates, making it a popular and impactful strategy. But personalization does more than improve clicks — this strategy is a real way to make your digital communication with supporters as unique as your in-person conversation would be at an event!

Including information specific to individual recipients, like name, location, and donation history, reinforces that each and every one of your grassroots donors is a valued part of your team. Plus, small-dollar donors who are invested in your cause are more likely to volunteer, vote, and talk to friends and family! So developing deeper relationships with your supporters pays off in more ways than one — it is an important tool both for your group and the larger small-dollar donor movement.

Personalization might seem difficult if you’ve never done it before, but a couple simple tools will allow you to easily include personalized content in your emails. These strategies won’t just help you reach your fundraising goals — they will enable you to build authentic and individualized relationships with the grassroots donors who have chosen to support and advocate for your cause.

FIRST, A QUICK NOTE

Personalization combined with a smart email strategy, including fundraising emails and customized remarketing emails and receipts, is the best way to engage with your small-dollar donors. Although there are several great ways you can communicate with your supporters in our increasingly digital world, email is still an essential part of every digital fundraising program because it is accessible, affordable, and effective.

As long as you have an email address, you can talk directly to your small-dollar donors and ask them to invest in your cause. And unlike social media, where your messages are displayed for a broad audience, your emails go straight into individual inboxes. Personalizing small parts of your emails will put you on the path to developing unique and deep-rooted relationships with your supporters. Choosing to contribute to your cause is a personal decision — your emails should be personal too!

There are two main tools that are essential to email personalization: personalization tags and list segmentation, both of which are likely available to you through your email provider. Both are based on subscriber field data, or the information that supporters provide when they opt-in to your email list.

PERSONALIZATION TAGS

Personalization tags are small bits of code which automatically display personalized information. These will look slightly different depending on your email provider, but their basic structure includes the bit of personalized content you would like to include, plus a backup option if the recipient didn’t include that information when they signed up for your email list. Here’s an example from Campaign Monitor:

personalization tags

Your email provider should have a list of personalization tags for customizing different types of information, like the one above. The amount of personalization tags available to you will depend on the information you asked people to provide when they signed up for your email list. If you have already begun fundraising, you will also have opportunities for personalization based on whether a supporter has donated before or how much they have contributed in the past. If you’re new to personalization, we recommend customizing donor first names as a simple and effective first step!

Unlike more specific demographic information like age and gender, you will almost certainly have the name for everyone receiving your emails. And including a donor’s name, particularly in the subject line, will motivate them to open your email — according to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.

To do this, simply copy and paste the personalization tag the email provider has supplied you into the subject line, and make sure to customize the backup text in case you don’t have someone’s information. The end result will look something like this:

personalized subject line

In the case of this example, the backup text could be “Only five states left, friend!”

Including names in the subject lines of your fundraising emails lets you directly address your supporters right in their inboxes. This kind of one-on-one communication motivates small-dollar donors not only to contribute, but to advocate for your cause in other ways because they are treated as an equal member of your team. Your grassroots donors are often the people most affected by your work, so building horizontal relationships with them is essential.

LIST SEGMENTATION

List segmentation refers to the practice of splitting up your email list based on subscriber field data, including location and donation history. Like personalization tags, segments of your email list can be accessed through your email provider. You can also download segmented lists of your donors and their emails in your ActBlue Dashboard!

By sending emails to specific groups of subscribers, you can tailor content to a particular set of your donors and speak directly to them in a way that is motivating and engaging. Welcome emails are a great example — campaigns and organizations send them out only to supporters who recently opted in to their email list.

welcome email

Welcome emails like the one above speak specifically to people who are new to your cause, recognizing their particular place on your team and introducing them to your story and work.

Segmenting your email list and sending your supporters information that is relevant to them is an important part of treating your donors like individuals, not ATMs. Have a group of volunteers that advocate for your campaign or organization? Send these dedicated supporters an email thanking them for their work. Notice that a particular community has stepped up for your cause? Recommend events they could attend, or send them a Tandem form that will expose them to other groups in their area. Plus, people are less likely to unsubscribe from your email list when they receive personalized emails rather than information that is over-generalized or irrelevant to them.

READY FOR THE NEXT STEP?

Although it might seem complicated at first, personalization is actually a powerful and deceivingly simple tool that ensures your emails are always unique and relevant to the small-dollar donors receiving them. Better yet, did you know ActBlue has a tool for personalizing your contribution forms? Read more about the snippet feature on our support site to take your personalization to the next level!

The power of recurring contributions

Asking for monthly donations is one of the most impactful strategies available for engaging with small-dollar donors and building a sustainable grassroots movement. A successful recurring program allows campaigns and organizations to raise more money and budget more effectively, but that’s not all — asking people to invest in your cause over the long term helps you build meaningful relationships with donors. And ActBlue users are excited to give on a regular basis: During the 2018 election cycle, 41% of all donations on ActBlue came from recurring contributions. That added up to over $324 million given to progressive campaigns and organizations creating a better future as a result of both monthly and weekly donations!

Recurring contributions powered small-dollar donors’ record-breaking fundraising on ActBlue in 2018, and we know they’ll be even more important moving forward. Keep reading to learn more about engaging with small-dollar donors using smart grassroots strategies and ActBlue’s easy recurring tools.

First, why focus on recurring contributions instead of only sending one-time asks?

1. Long-lasting relationships.
Here at ActBlue, empowering small-dollar donors is our bread and butter. That’s why we think recurring contributions are so important: When people choose to give money to a group on a regular basis, they are investing fully in change and cementing themselves as an essential part of your campaign or organization. It’s conventional wisdom that early money makes a huge difference in politics, so asking early donors in particular to sign up for recurring contributions ensures that you have dedicated supporters from the very beginning and more contributions coming in as your campaign heats up. The same advice applies to nonprofits launching a new fundraising push! In addition to giving monthly, recurring donors are more likely to be vocal, action-oriented advocates who will support you over and over again: In 2017 and 2018, 35% of recurring donors on ActBlue gave a one-time contribution to the same group after their initial recurring contribution. In other words, these grassroots donors will help you spread the word, raise money, and achieve your goals!

2. More money: period.
Receiving small-dollar donations every month brings in more money than receiving larger one-time donations. The 2018 election cycle, which produced huge wins for Democrats and progressive causes, is a great example of this. A $10 recurring contribution started in the 2018 cycle now has a total worth, on average, of $61.94 — over 6 times the worth of a $10 one-time contribution (some of these contributions finished in the 2018 cycle, and some are continuing into 2019). And the momentum isn’t slowing down any time soon! ActBlue has already processed over $100 million in recurring contributions so far this year.

total recurring graph

3. Budgets for the win!
It goes without saying that budgets are absolutely essential to a well-organized campaign or organization. Recurring contributions make budgeting easier and more accurate — if you’re receiving a consistent amount of money every month, you can look forward and plan ahead. Recurring contributions created on ActBlue in the 2018 cycle lasted, on average, around 5 months, giving you plenty of time to schedule ads, hire organizers, or pay for whatever else your group may need. For small campaigns and organizations, having a reliable grassroots donor base and a regular number of recurring contributions will also allow staffers to spend less time finding one-time donors. A strong recurring contribution program is not only a proven fundraising strategy, it’s a time saver!

Asking for recurring contributions is intimidating — we get it! But grassroots donors want to invest in your campaign or organization long term, so it’s important to integrate recurring asks into your existing digital fundraising program. Plus, ActBlue makes it easy! Here are some tips and tricks:

1. Smart Recurring: The ultimate recurring tool!
When you create a contribution form on ActBlue, the pop-up recurring feature, which asks donors giving $100 or less to make their one-time donation a recurring one after they hit “Contribute,” is automatically on. Our Smart Recurring feature works similarly, but it asks donors for a smaller recurring donation after they’ve contributed. By asking people for a recurring contribution that is smaller than what they just gave as a one-time donation, you can help meet people where they are and raise more money in the long run!

2. Don’t forget rapid response.
When there is a crisis or event that thrusts your campaign or cause into the spotlight, people are much more likely to be tuned in to your group and give a donation right in that moment. Although it is easy (and understandable!) to focus on handling the immediate situation, some longer-term thinking can help extend your momentum. Asking for recurring contributions over email or social media is a powerful way to meet the moment and implement real change through small-dollar donations.

NARAL

A strong recurring program will ensure that when the media moves on to cover other news, your group will still have a dedicated cohort of monthly donors that enable you to do the important work you want to focus on.

3. Always say thank you!

Everytown Email

Last but not least, make sure to specifically thank your sustainers! You don’t want to send too many fundraising emails to your recurring donors, because they’re already making a big contribution to your work. Save those emails for key moments or rapid response situations (and only ask them for a one-time gift). Instead, focus on sending emails to this group of donors that recognize their vital support and highlight what their money is doing for your work. Read this article if you need a reminder on how to access your recurring donor information!

In many ways, recurring contributions are at the heart of the small-dollar donor movement: By giving a small amount of money on a monthly basis, individuals can make their voices heard and fully invest in causes and campaigns they care about without giving a large one-time donation. And by building these relationships with donors, you can budget more effectively and have a reliable base of active supporters. That’s what we call a win-win!