DMAW Advents: Data-driven Decision-making is Paramount

At the risk of stating the obvious, this past year has taught us the supreme importance of clean data. It was always going to be difficult to maintain the giving levels of 2020 and 2021. Whether an organization experienced a huge influx of new donors during the height of the coronavirus pandemic or felt crowded out by an uncertain economy, social and political unrest or the myriad other stories dominating the news, one thing remained true across the board: Data-driven decision-making is paramount.

At the end of the day, a campaign strategy is only as good as the underlying data. I will happily admit that my biases are showing, but I do not think my fabulous colleagues that work on the creative side would fight me too hard on this.

How do we know that donors respond better to open envelope teaser X than open envelope teaser Y, or why that pesky labels package you keep trying to test out of simply will not lose? How do we know which donors are more likely to respond to the QR code or URL on the back of a reply device as opposed to mailing a check? Because we have the data to support it.

Clean data allows for detailed and impactful personalization. Another thing we repeatedly learn from our data: Donors love personalization. ­Just ask my dear mother, the woman who cannot resist sending me a photo of every personalized mail piece she gets. Is someone a new donor? Welcome them! Are they a loyal donor? Thank them for their years of support. Are they a donor you are hoping to reactivate? Consider the message that encouraged them to join in the first place. Keeping this level of detail front of mind will allow for more meaningful segmentation and result in donors receiving the information that most resonates with them.

Our donors typically tell us how they want us to communicate (or not communicate) with them. Behavioral data points will help you tailor your audience selections and reach your donors in the channel most appropriate for them. Take for example an organization experienced an influx of online donors during a natural disaster. Those donors are now flowing into the standard mail campaign data select. Are they mail responsive? Do they need to get every mailing? Are the mail pieces driving them to give online (I self-identify as the type of donor who opens the mail, and immediately goes online to donate)? Clean, channel-centric behavior data can make this an avenue of segmentation worth exploring.

My company experienced this example firsthand. We discovered that around 25% of one organization’s standard mail campaign select consisted of donors who had never made a gift through the mail. We leveraged this data and segmented the two groups to identify any performance differences without adjusting treatment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the proven mail-responsive cohort was nearly 10 times more likely to give. Given these results, we took the segmentation one step further and implemented a testing strategy centered around holding out a group of these donors as part of a  mailing cadence test. The goal was to determine if we could safely reduce the total number of touch points for this cohort without hurting overall donor value across channels. Reducing the touch points has allowed us to continue supporting these donors’ multichannel journey while reallocating cost savings toward better performing segments.

This can be an interesting test option to consider in many scenarios, not just online versus offline donors! Maybe you work with an organization that receives a large number of tribute gifts each year. Are the donors that join the program with a tribute gift converting with a second gift? How do they factor into your standard data select? Or maybe you just have a segment of low-dollar, deeper lapsed donors that have been under-performing. Assuming the sample size is large enough, it can be worth considering this type of test.

All of these findings and testing strategies are made possible by diligent data practices. None of this is reinventing the wheel. Clean data and detailed segmentation has always been important, and that importance stretches far beyond a personalized salutation. However, these building-block ideas have reinforced themselves time and time again. As technology continues to advance, and donors get younger and more sophisticated, data will continue to entrench itself at the heart of what we do ­­­­every day. Leveraging clean data will be our strongest asset.