What is membership engagement and how does it affect your organization? When your members respond to your emails, attend your events, or donate their time and money to your cause, they’re engaging, and that engagement keeps your organization running.
Dedicated members want to participate, some are on the fence, and others aren’t aware that you have engagement opportunities. To get the word out, your organization needs to get in touch with supporters in a way that will result in interaction and not silence.
At GivingMail, we specialize in helping nonprofit organizations make the most out of direct mail communication. Our experiences boosting engagement have taught us four key lessons for how to improve response rates and use direct mail as a solution to fill communication gaps your organization might have with its members. In this article, we’ll explore how to:
- Personalize each appeal
- Incorporate strategic audience segmentation
- Invest in top member management software
- Work with a direct mail platform
These strategies aim to help your organization understand your members on a personal level and create the appeals that will resonate with them the most. Let’s get started.
1. Personalize each appeal
Building relationships with members leads to further engagement, which in turn can lead to increased support. Personalized appeals create connections between members and your organization as customized messages show supporters that your organization took the time to acknowledge their individual contributions.
Of course, writing unique messages to every member isn’t practical. However, your CRM and other supporter engagement software can help you automate your message creation. This guide goes over a few best practices for using technology to help your organization decide when, how, and what to communicate to supporters.
For example, you should continually collect information about your members and keep a record of their interactions with your organization. Using this data, create profiles for each supporter that has:
- Their basic personal information. Basic demographic information such as name, age, and location will help your organization communicate with individual members and understand your members as a whole. Your members’ names are key to keep track of for personalized appeals as it always is more meaningful to be addressed as a person and not a “Valued Member.”
- Their contact information. Contact information includes obvious data such as their email and phone number. If your members give you a variety of communication channels, keep track of which ones they are the most responsive to, or ask what their preferred contact method is.
- Their history with your organization. Along with their name, personalized appeals should acknowledge how members have engaged with your organization in the past. For example, mentioning events a member attended or a campaign they recently donated to shows supporters that your organization is aware of and appreciates their efforts.
Your CRM or member management software should have templates (or the ability to create templates) that can be populated with personalized information, giving every member an email, letter, or another form of communication tailored to them.
2. Incorporate strategic audience segmentation
In addition to personalization, segmentation helps you create outreach content based on your members’ past activity and interests. Segmentation involves separating your supporters based on shared characteristics and designing different messages based on those details for each group.
Segmentation can also be combined with personalization to create appeals focused on shared traits of a group that also reference personal information such as the member’s name and specific donations.
But be sure to segment your supporters purposefully. For example, you could divide your supporters based on a demographic characteristic like gender. However, segmenting supporters this way doesn’t align with many organizations’ goals, nor is it clear how dividing supporters along gender lines would lead to more engaging messages.
By contrast, segmenting supporters based on how long they’ve been a member can be linked to obvious benefits. In this case, your organization could target new members with welcome messages to introduce your organization. For members who have been with your organization for years, you could send messages reflecting their long-term involvement such as a retrospective documenting how your organization has grown with their help.
Segmentation requires more templates than broad personalization as different campaigns, events, and other engagement practices will require different base messages.
Luckily, Fundraising Letters’ guide to letter writing can help supplement your organization’s fundraising outreach tools and additional research can find similar websites for other message types such as newsletters, post-event thank you letters, and more.
3. Invest in top membership management software
As mentioned in the previous tips, member/donor management software can help you personalize and segment your audience to create more valuable messages for your members. However, not all member management software has the same features, so be sure to do your research before making a big purchase.
GivingMail’s guide to donor management software offers practical advice for how to assess potential CRMs before making a purchase and compares and contrasts a few top choices. In particular, it emphasizes the following features and capabilities in member management software:
- Donor profile creation and management. Each donor should receive their own profile in your system that tracks basic personal and contact information. Look for additional features as well, such as analysis of giving behavior, which can help you identify potential major donors.
- Reporting capabilities. Member management software is useful because it stores important details about your members that allow you to analyze behavior trends and segment supporters. For example, your member management software should allow you to sort and filter by member type so you can identify and tailor communication for new members.
- Integration. All of your software needs to work together. As the main hub of information about your supporters, your member management software needs to integrate with other software tools such as your email service provider or direct mail platform with minimal hiccups. Take the time to review integration practices and plan how you will align your new and old software.
- Price. Your member management software is one of your organization’s most important tools, but it is possible to find one with all the features you need without overspending. Member management software usually comes with base features and add-ons that can be purchased later, so make a list of must-have and optional features as you research your options.
Ask questions and apply for demos before making a purchase to ensure you are choosing the software that meets your organization’s needs. Doing research ahead of time and keeping a running list of options will also help if you later decide you need to upgrade your software.
4. Work with a direct mail platform
After you use your CRM to track information about your members to create personalized messages based on segmentation strategies, you’ll need to choose a medium to get your method out there. At GivingMail, we recommend using a direct mail for nonprofits service provider as traditional mail communication continues to be the single greatest source of donations for nonprofits in the U.S.
Direct mail tends to be especially effective with older supporters, who also tend to donate more. Direct mail also encourages engagement by virtue of delivering physical objects to members, which can’t be scrolled past in an inbox or on a social media feed. Interacting with physical objects reinforces your organization’s presence for your members, which can lead to continued or new involvement once your organization begins a campaign or event.
Like with any communication channel, learning best practices to encourage member engagement takes experimentation and investment of time and money. Working with a direct mail platform gives your organization an experienced partner to turn to for advice on how to better your outreach campaigns.
Fostering engagement requires letting your supporters know you know who they are, appreciate them, and want to continue connecting with them. These relationships can be built through personalized and memorable outreach strategies such as a targeted direct mail campaign. As you look into increasing your engagement rates, consider getting creative with direct mail to send cards, postcards, or even calendars to keep your organization in your members’ minds all year long.
Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.