What Motivates Your Donors to Give? Using a Donor Management System to Segment and Understand Your Donors

July 11, 2022

Understanding your donors means knowing them well enough to provide tailored experiences and steward them into becoming lifelong supporters of your charity.

Because personal experiences are often the most memorable ones.

Even the simplest gestures of kindness leave lasting impressions and help create loyal supporters, just like this Leafs player did.

And as much as charities strive to make each experience for donors as special as the one above, charities simply don’t have the capacity or resources to do so.

Instead, successful charities use software like the Donor Management System (DMS) to identify donors with shared interests, preferences, and habits to develop personalized experiences for groups of like-minded donors.

These types of groups are known as segments in the marketing world. 

This blog will start with broad strokes by helping you segment your donors by giving behaviour. Then we’ll cover more specific segments, including communications, interests, and participation that could provide insights into what motivates a donor to give.


In this blog: 


Segmenting is one of the easiest ways to start understanding your donors

Charities can identify different segments using the Advanced Search function in the DMS. Once identified, charities can then segment their donors automatically or manually using the Groups, Smart Groups, and Tags function in the DMS.

By segmenting, charities learn how donors’ interaction with your charity and content affects their behaviour. With these insights, charities can then develop concrete answers to questions such as, “why did a donor give to our charity?” or, “how long does it take to convert one-time donors into repeat donors?”

Answers that will ultimately help define your charity’s donor stewardship strategy.

Segmenting by giving behaviour

Donor behaviour charities are most commonly interested in are giving cadence and gift sizes. With the DMS, you can segment donors by these types of behaviour.

Think about our purchasing behaviour for a moment. Before we get a new TV, phone, or almost any other product, we go through a process of consideration and research before making the purchase.

Similarly, your supporters will do the same. 

For example, before a potential donor gives to your organization, they’ll likely take the time to research and learn more about your organization for the peace of mind that they’re making the right decision.

So don’t expect all of your supporters will be ready to give monthly or in more significant amounts right off the bat. And if you send too many communications requesting these types of gifts, you risk upsetting or annoying them. That can lead to email unsubscribes, fewer gifts, or they may lose interest in your organization altogether.

Charities need to take the time to steward their donors and meet them where they are. And the first step to accomplishing that is segmenting your donors by their giving behaviour.

I want to understand how often my donors give

Common problems:

  • How often and how many donors give to my organization?
  • Are the specific times during the year when giving slows down?

By creating segments based on giving frequency, charities can identify ideal candidates who are likely to give more frequently and convert these donors into monthly donors.

Segment ideas: 

  • One-time donors: Donors who’ve donated once in the last year.
  • Monthly donors: Donors who are making recurring donations every month.

Start by differentiating your one-time donors and monthly donors. Repeat and monthly donors give your charity the peace of mind and freedom to plan financially. Thus, many charities desire to convert one-time donors into repeat and monthly donors.

How to do it:

Once you go to the Contacts tab in the DMS menu at the top, click on Advanced Search.Then scroll to the Contributions dropdown.

To identify donors who’ve made at least one donation during a specific, click on DATE RECEIVED to specify the desired time frame. Leave both fields under CONTRIBUTION AMOUNTS blank. Click Search at the bottom of the Advanced Search menu to view the results. 

To identify donors who make recurring donations, scroll to the Contributions tab. Then click on Recurring Contributions and check mark the IS CONTRIBUTION RECURRING? box to search for donors who make recurring donations. Click Search at the bottom of the Advanced Search menu to view the results. 

I want to understand how much my donor is willing to give

Common problems:

  • How much more should we ask from our donors?
  • What are the ideal suggested amounts to list on our online donation forms?

Whether you’re requesting via email or determining the right suggested amounts to put on your online donation form, charities should be reasonable and respectful when asking for donations.

Segment ideas:

  • Major donors: Donors who’ve given at least one large monetary gift to the charity.
  • Significant donors: Donors who give in larger amounts than the average gift size but less than major donors.

Remember that your donors’ capacity or ability to give can change due to the economy, employment, or any number of reasons. So regularly re-evaluating how much your donors can give helps ensure you’re not leaving potential donations on the table.

How to do it:

Starting again from the Contacts tab, go to Advanced Search in the DMS and scroll to Contributions. Find CONTRIBUTION AMOUNTS and add the dollar amounts that you want to search. In the same Contributions section, you can narrow down your results by searching for donations within a set period. Click Search at the bottom of the Advanced Search menu to view the results. 

I want to understand who stopped giving to my charity

Common problems:

  • How do I identify lapsed donors?
  • Which donors did not give this year?

All charities know it’s harder to keep existing donors than attract new ones. And as charities continue to experience a decline in giving, it will only get even more challenging. In response, successful charities rely on software like the DMS to identify the segments of donors who have not given in the current year.

Segment ideas:

  • LYBUNT: Donors who gave Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year.
  • SYBUNT: Donors who gave Some Years But Unfortunately Not This Year.

LYBUNT and SYBUNT segments are useful ways to identify donors who’ve given in the past but not in the current year. Most importantly, these segments help charities understand why a donor has given in the past. That way, charities can re-engage these segments to improve overall fundraising and stewardship efforts and ultimately retain more donors.

Often, donors lapse and stop giving to your charity because they feel underappreciated or aren’t informed about the direct impact of their donation. So charities should regularly reach out to donors to get feedback by phone, email, or surveys.

But sometimes, your donor’s giving behaviour goes beyond your charity’s mission and impact.

Sometimes, their generosity also depends on the time of year, economic circumstances, or, unfortunately, global catastrophes. Creating LYBUNT and SYBUNT segments helps charities gather insights into donors by linking giving behaviour to these events.

Just look at how COVID-19 and the crisis in Ukraine have affected giving on a global scale. However, in a few years, charities may find their LYBUNT and SYBUNT lists heavily populated with donors who only gave at the height of these global disasters.

Understanding that context helps you make a more strategic decision about how to market to that list. In this context, you're not just trying to re-engage based on an arbitrary time. You're trying to understand your donors and speak to their specific situations. LYBUNT and SYBUNT segments are gateways to understanding that.

How to do it:

Go to the Reports tab in the DMS menu at the top. Click on New Report and open the  Contribution Report Templates dropdown. Then select the General Contribution Reports dropdown. In this list are ready-to-use report templates included in your DMS subscription.. Scroll down, and you’ll find the LYBUNT or SYBUNT templates.

Once you’ve selected LYBUNT or SYBUNT, add or remove columns as desired by checking off the boxes beside each field. Once you’ve selected all the desired columns, click View Results. To add the donors from this list to a Group, click on Add Contacts to Group.

Segmenting further to understand what motivates your donors

Alone, the giving behaviour segments above can only tell about the donor’s giving level and frequency. So, the next logical step is to identify what motivated your donors to give more often or in larger amounts.

Simply put, the segments below are designed to help you understand how to target your donors.

For example, if a donor made a one-time donation in January and converted into a monthly donor in March, what motivated the donor to make that decision? Was it the communications tactics? Or was it the charity’s ability to build trust by providing content that resonated with the donor? Or was it both?

As we mentioned at the beginning, attempting to answer these questions by going through each donor’s activities and giving history isn’t a practical use of time. Indeed, efficient charities answer these questions by creating segments around these topics. 

For example, let’s say you created a Tag titled Highly Engaged in the DMS to segment highly engaged donors - donors that open or open, read and click through emails. Performing an Advanced Search in the DMS with Monthly Donors in the Group(s) field and the Highly Engaged Tag selected will provide a list of donors that meet both criteria. Ultimately these results will help determine if email engagement impacts monthly donor conversions.

Below, we’ll explore some ways you can segment your donors to help you understand what motivates your donors to give.

Segmenting by communication channel

Common problems:

  • Do my donors have a communication preference? 
  • How do my donors like to be contacted?

Charities should be mindful of the channels their donors prefer. If a donor has stated they prefer emails over calls, any phone call from the charity may come off as annoying or inconsiderate. On the other hand, others don’t want to receive emails because they don’t want to overload their inbox

Segment ideas:

  • Prefers phone calls: The donor enjoys calls over other forms of comm
  • Prefers emails: The donor enjoys reading communications in their own time.

Why go through the effort to prepare envelopes and mail your entire donor list if many prefer phone calls and emails? Not only do you save time and resources by minimizing unnecessary work, but you also won’t risk upsetting your donors by breaking communication boundaries.

How to do it:

From the Contacts tab, start an Advanced Search. Under the Contacts dropdown, simply select the PREFERRED COMMUNICATION METHOD to filter your results by those who prefer email, phone, or other methods of communication.

For donors who have yet to set up their preferred communication channel

Segmenting by donor interests and preferences

Common problems:

  • What aspects of the charity interest our donors most? 
  • Do my donors prefer to give online, over the phone, or other channels?

It’s likely there isn’t one sole reason why your donors are interested in your charity. Some may have taken an interest in the different funds you have. Others may be passionate about a specific cause your charity supports. Whatever the interest or preference, leverage donor insights to personalize your content and help nurture and develop relationships.

Segment ideas:

  • Supports _____ fund: Fill in the blank with the fund this segment supports.
  • Prefers _____  giving method: Fill in the blank with the donation channel, such as a CDF (Custom Donation Forms).

Suppose you notice a segment of your donors inspired by your work with a specific fund. In that case, it’s an excellent opportunity to share the impact of that fund and pair this content with a call-to-action (CTA) based on the behaviour you want your donor to take. Most importantly, ensure your CTA reflects the donor’s preferred giving channel. If you’re sending a segmented email to donors who prefer giving through a custom donation form, hyperlink the CTA to a custom donation form. If your donor prefers offline donations over the phone, you may want to switch up your CTA, so it reads, “Call now to donate.”

How to do it:

In the Contributions tab, you can perform an Advanced Search to identify the funds and giving channels your donors prefer the most. While in Advanced Search, select a fund in the Funds field. Sort the search results by name to see the frequency and amounts donors contribute to the fund. Also, in Advanced Search, charities can filter the search results by the preferred giving channel by going to the Contributions dropdown and selecting 

So there you have it. Here are some great ways to segment with purpose. Whether your charity is increasing the frequency of donations, bumping up the average donation amount, or trying a bit of both, it all starts by understanding what motivates your donors.

For those who want the step-by-step instructions, watch our FREE training webinar to learn how to create segments using the DMS Advanced Search and Reports.

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