Published: 12 March 2010

The power of accurate targeting

John Pooley from The Data Partnership talks about how you can ensure your marketing messages are seen by your target audience

Corporate and consumer donations are declining sharply, consumers are cancelling their direct debits to charities in record numbers and falling legacy donations have left charities facing a financial black hole.

Figures released by the Charities Aid Foundation and National Council for Voluntary Organisations in September 2009 show that charitable giving that year fell by a record 11% – a £700m drop on the previous year. Likewise, statistics from research body Legacy Foresight shows the value of legacy donations to charities fell by about £66m (3.4%) in 2009.

Back to basics

To say that there are some tough challenges ahead in the third sector is somewhat of an understatement. With such an unforgiving economic outlook, it’s more important than ever that charities see a measurable return from their marketing activity; so what exactly can they do to improve results?

In difficult times, the charity marketer must get back to basics and focus on targeting the right consumer with the right message at the right time – it may be a marketing cliché, but it’s never been truer. There’s no point wasting valuable resources trying to communicate with consumers who simply aren’t interested. Your direct mail piece or email could contain the most thought-provoking copy along with beautifully shot images, but it will never elicit the desired response unless the recipient has an affinity with the charity’s cause. So how can you ensure your marketing message is seen by the right audience?

  • Don't neglect consumer data

Accurate targeting through the intelligent use of consumer data is key. At its simplest, it may be as straightforward as using geographic, demographic or gender selections. Whilst it’s always dangerous to make sweeping generalisations about broad segment groups, clear trends do exist that can help refine targeting. For example, whatever the charitable cause, older consumers are statistically always more generous and willing to donate. This is mainly down to the fact that they tend to have higher disposal incomes due to no longer having children to support, mortgages to pay, school fees to pay etc. It probably comes as no surprise to many that women also have a much higher propensity to donate than men.

There’s also a distinct North-South divide, with the latter much more likely to support charitable causes. Just using these broad profile characteristics you can refine your targeting and can greatly improve the ROI of your marketing.

One way of building an accurate portrait of your supporters is by looking at your donor database to find commonalities amongst your supporters. This insight can then be used to find consumers who share similar traits and interests. To accurately gauge a consumer’s interest in a given charity/cause charities, you need to be able to identify known interests. Needless to say, asking specific questions on data collection surveys such as ‘Would you consider donating to X?’ or ‘Have you ever donated money to an animal charity?’ is the most effective way of generating such leads.

  • Take note of the finer details

Fundraising by its nature is highly sensitive and emotive, so if you really want to execute highly targeted communications you need to go beyond broad segments and start identifying the drivers behind particular behavioural impulses. With detailed consumer insight you can move from scatter gun, mass marketing to individually targeted, personalised communications.

Let’s take legacy donations as an example. Arguably one of the most sensitive fundraising methods, it needs to be approached with care and consideration. Charities need to be confident they’re targeting the right audience; otherwise, they risk not only jeopardising potential donors but also the reputation of the charity itself.

  • Use small details

There are however certain strategies, that with access to the right data, charities can follow to increase their chances of successfully attracting legacy donations. For example, knowing whether your prospect has any children can greatly improve the relevancy of legacy-driven marketing, for the simple reason that childless couples are much more likely to leave legacy donations.

Likewise, simply knowing your prospects’ age can also improve conversion rates. The average age for making a Will is 45, so if you can target people who are at a stage of their life when they’re thinking about writing one, then they will obviously be much more receptive to your message. It goes to show you that even the smallest details have the potential to greatly improve the ROI of your marketing.

  • Use appropriate communication channels

However, accurate targeting doesn’t end with lifestyle data and known interests. If charities really want to maximise the ROI of their DM campaigns then they need to contact their supporters via their preferred communication channel (e.g. phone, direct mail, email); this means considering how the leads for their direct marketing campaigns are generated in the first place.

It’s common sense, but if consumers are responsive to data collection surveys via a certain channel, they’ll probably be responsive to your marketing via that channel as well. For example, if you’re planning to run a telemarketing fundraising campaign, then the leads should ideally be collected from telephone surveys. Likewise, if you want to execute an email campaign, then the consumer’s data should be collected online as oppose to via the phone.

In these economically uncertain times, there’s never been a more important moment for charities to get under the skin of their prospective supporters. Finely targeted campaigns, based on accurate consumer insight, can dramatically improve response rates, slash excess wastage, and most importantly increase the return from your marketing. It’s time to unlock your marketing’s potential.


John Pooley, managing director, The Data Partnership

The co-founder of The Data Partnership, John has 14 years of industry experience within direct marketing and lead generation.