How Segmenting Your List Can Increase Engagement

Try to Please All and You Will Please None: How Segmenting Your List Can Increase Engagement and Charitable Giving

Have you ever used these communication strategies with your nonprofit community members? How Segmenting Your List Can Increase Engagement?

  • Emailed the same message to everyone on your list every time.
  • Rarely communicated so as not to “bother” anyone.
  • Relied on just one or two channels to get your message out.

If so, you are not alone!

Most organizations we’ve worked with have struggled with at least one, if not more, of these communication challenges.

And that’s because trying to please everyone using the same methods and strategies is impossible.

That’s right, your donors, staff, board members, leadership, volunteers, and program participants all have different needs, interests, and behaviors:

  • Some people want to hear from you more.
  • Others want to know less.
  • Some donors read their emails several times daily, while others don’t even have an email address.

This means sending the same letter to everyone could be wasting resources and potentially hurting your relationships with them at worst.

So how can a nonprofit like yours “please everyone”?

Unfortunately, you can’t!

Here’s what we do know after working with hundreds of nonprofits over the years:

There are better ways to communicate with your supporters than throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Or worse, ghost your audience until it’s time to ask for a gift.

If finding that sweet spot of communicating with your donors is difficult, let’s talk about one way you might relieve some of the stress in the system: Segmentation.

What is segmentation?

Segmenting means dividing your supporters into groups with similar characteristics.

For example, a school might segment its database into current parents, alums, and parents of alums. Each of those groups could be further segmented into decades or by individual class year.

By speaking to a smaller group of people within your community, you can send a message that says directly to them and connects over a shared experience or common interest.

Segmenting has enormous benefits. It has been shown to increase click-thru rates on email campaigns by 15%, according to MailChimp! Hands down, it’s the best way to ensure constituent groups get what they need at the right time.

So how do you segment a group of supporters?

That’s the million-dollar question! Truthfully, it will vary from organization to organization, and the possibilities are endless.

Here are some basics to consider:

  • Giving history
  • Event attendance
  • Relationship to organization
  • Demographic info
  • Behavior
  • Preferred communication method
  • Interests

Let’s take a closer look at these categories.

Giving History

Giving history, including gift date and amount, is the single marker for which every organization, regardless of size, should be segmenting.

Why? Because you most likely wouldn’t send the same “thank you for your gift” response to a person who just gave $50 as the person who has $5,000, at least not with a separate follow-up and stewardship plan.

Their levels of investment are very different, and they’d expect different levels of engagement from your organization in return.

Event Attendance

Consider tracking attendees and no-shows when you hold an auction, gala, race, meeting, or another event. After the event, you can quickly sort and customize the message from “thanks for attending” to “sorry we missed you.” It also becomes much easier to invite past attendees in the future.

Relationship to Your Organization

Who volunteers for you? Who serves on your board of directors? Who participates in your programs? Knowing who does what is key to personalizing your communications.

It might be a single line of text that differs from one group to another, or you might have an entirely different communication strategy. Whatever the case may be, put yourself in your supporters’ shoes and think, “How do I feel when I read this?”

Reading a “Dear Friend, thank you for your support” letter is much different than the one that says, “Hi Debbie, thank you for volunteering at the Linky Din 5K!”

Delight your people with personalization, and they will return the favor.

Demographic Info

Should you track age, gender, geographic location, income level, marriage status, and the like? Sure! If you can.

Generationally, we can see trends in giving and philanthropic interests, although we’d also caution that making assumptions based solely on any of these characteristics could flop.

That said, you might have a case where you’re appealing specifically to women and want to highlight a shared experience. Or perhaps your national organization is serving a unique need in a particular city or province, so segmenting by location could be very helpful.

However, you decide to segment based on demographic information and your plan.


Segmenting by behavior is a terrific way to target a particular audience. Some CRMs and email platforms will do it automatically for you.

For example, what if you saw a whole bunch of people open your last email but didn’t click through? Perhaps you could send a follow-up note to those who showed interest and entice them with a personalized message.

This is a powerful way to send targeted communications through email, and it might be worth looking into.

Preferred Communication Method

One version of the golden rule is to communicate with supporters the way they communicate with you:

  • Do they text you after you leave a voicemail? Text that person back.
  • Are they quick with email? Great, make sure they’re on your email list.
  • Don’t have an email but respond to your direct mail appeals? Keep sending those letters – it’s working!

To get this information, consider sending out a survey with the communication options that you can accommodate. Providing a list of 6 or 7 methods you can’t honor doesn’t do any good.


Your nonprofit might have a single focus, or you could have several arms that work together to solve a problem. If you’re able to speak to people who are interested in one particular area of your organization, by all means, try to segment them out.

For example, a large medical nonprofit might send a research-focused newsletter to its science lovers. Another segment might be focused on education initiatives, patient success stories, or tales from the front-line workers.

No matter the size of your organization, segmenting by interest can keep engagement up and help reduce the number of unsubscribes to your email list.

Steps to segmenting your list:

If it seems like segmenting is a no-brainer, you’re right. However, it’s not always easy to execute in practice.

  1. Start small – choose one or two areas to focus on and test them out. You can always revisit and adjust your segments as you learn more about your audience.
  2. Determine your messaging strategy for each segment. Will you write a unique message for each segment, or change a small part (a line, a paragraph, the offer, the ask)?
  3. Develop key message themes you’d like to send out regularly (appeals, receipts, thank you’s; newsletters, emails, surveys)
  4. Decide how often (weekly, monthly, quarterly) and through which media channels (social, email, direct mail) you’ll communicate with each segment.
  5. Track as much data as you can from each segment and use that data to make adjustments in your subsequent communications.

Overcoming hurdles

In an ideal world, communication between an organization and its supporters should be ongoing, relevant to their lives, and done through the channel(s) that they (the supporters) prefer.

The most difficult challenge to overcome is bad data. Wrong, missing, outdated, or duplicate information can lead to some folks being left out and others getting double-asked.

If your organization uses a spreadsheet for your constituent information, it might be challenging to track critical segmentation data. It’s also hard to sort by multiple characteristics in a spreadsheet and not end up with mistakes or duplicate emails being sent to the same person.

How can you segment efficiently?

With a good system.

Investing in a CRM with excellent reporting capabilities, such as fundraising manager by Salesforce, might be a logical next step. Are you looking for your LYBUNTs? Your volunteers? Your donors over $5,000? A master database with all your donor and constituent information allows you to pull segmented lists with just a few clicks.

Ultimately, personalization matters significantly to your organization’s bottom line, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. So if you’re not yet segmenting your lists, I hope this article gave you some food for thought and a little inspiration to try segmentation.

>> Co-written by Amanda Cowart of Red Rock Communications.

“Amanda Cowart is a content writer specializing in nonprofit fundraising, email campaigns, and website copy. She is a regular contributor to cloudStack Services, a Salesforce implementation partner for nonprofits.”


Segmenting to increase engagement

Tasha Van Vlack of cloudStack Services

cloudStack Services is a team of nonprofit specialists who work on the Salesforce platform. They support nonprofits as they integrate Salesforce for fundraising, delivering programs, marketing, managing volunteers and reporting. Nonprofit technology can feel intimidating so the cloudStack team strives to support your team every step of the way. They work with nonprofits to outline your end goals but also appreciate that a phased approach to a new technology is often what is best for the nonprofit.

October 12, 2022

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