Raising more money and empathy at the intersections of identity



Recently, TNPA and we talked about how people are more likely to care about and donate to their in-groups, whether that’s fans of the same soccer team or, more perniciously, possessing the same skin color.  Solutions included not labeling in-group/out-group status, asking people to imagine themselves in the person’s shoes, and creating intersecting loyalties.

It’s this last one to which we turn today.  As mentioned in the TNPA post, this dates at least to Deganawida, the Great Peacemaker of the Iroquois.  He created nine different clans that cut across the five different warring tribes of the Iroquois.  These clans helped create differing allegiances, which weakened allegiances overall. 

The truth is in our fundraising and our identities, this intersection of identities is inevitable.  Commentators on the 2020 presidential election have recently rediscovered that — gasp! — Hispanic or Latinx voters are not monolithic.  Nor, to extend out this blinding flash of the obvious, are African-American voters, male voters, non-college educated voters, or any other demographic categories. 

As we talk about in the Death to Buckets white paper, no one variable is as good as multiple variables modeled together.  To wit:

“Many will tell you there is an ideal way to segment your file that goes beyond transactional information.  In fact, they will tell you the best way, possibly the only way, to segment your file with just one variable.  And it just so happens that this usually corresponds to the variable they have for sale:

  • F2F canvassing organizations talk about age as the predictive variable of whether a sustaining donor will, in fact, sustain.
  • Wealth screeners talk about how knowing how much wealth someone has will predict whether they will give that wealth to you.
  • Organizations that sell surveys will tell you that only zero-party data from donors’ mouths is valuable.
  • Email marketing systems make it easy (OK, easy-ish) to stop sending emails to those who haven’t opened in a while.

All these variables are predictive.  And yet they are all only part of the elephant.  Older donors, wealthy donors, survey answerers, and email openers all behave differently from the young, poor, shy, and email-shy.  And these are only four of literally hundreds of variables that can make a difference.

It makes more sense to look at donors in their totality than to think only about the elephant’s trunk, differentiate only on the trunk, and swear by the trunk.  And it’s more predictive of their future behavior, whether it’s information you have before they are acquired or after.”

When we talk about blanket demographic groups, we’re engaging in this type of thinking.  Demographics can be predictive, but they are not destiny. 

By breaking down our donors across many different categories and customize our copy to them across those different categories, we get closer and closer to the ideal—true one-on-one marketing.

That type of marketing increases fundraising results, yes.  But more than that, it helps with donor equity.  When you can highlight the different aspects of a person in need or who has been helped by your organization, and how they might connect to each donor, you move toward greater equity in fundraising as well.  While it takes additional work, it’s a move that does well and does good at the same time.

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