As a millennial employed by a tech company, it is required by law that I purchase and use a standing desk.

A few other Bloomerang employees had purchased an Autonomous SmartDesk, an adjustable desk that allows you to sit or stand as you please. Having seen it in action and knowing my co-workers were satisfied, I ordered one on 9/1/16.

What happened between 9/1/16 and ultimately receiving the desk on 10/28/16 taught me a lesson in customer service that I believe is essential for fundraisers and nonprofit communicators to hear.

After making the purchase, I received two email receipts:

Both were rather perfunctory and bland – a topic I’ve written about extensively that has takeaways for nonprofits, but won’t get into here.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be getting the desk for a few weeks due to high demand, I more or less forgot about it. That is, until I received an email appeal from Autonomous on 9/28/16:

That’s right – Autonomous also makes an ergonomic chair that they would also like me to buy, presumably to complete the set with my adjustable desk.

Even though I was already a customer, you could argue that the timing of this appeal is a little odd since I have not yet received my desk. After all, having not yet personally used one of their products yet, what makes them think that I have the confidence to invest in a second?

Those questions aside, it was the next email I received from Autonomous – on the same day as the chair appeal – that made the situation truly interesting:

Just hours after sending me an appeal, Autonomous let me know that the shipping on my desk had been delayed a few more weeks. The shipping delay by itself probably wouldn’t have annoyed me at all, but the fact that I had just received an appeal from them got me curious about how they decide who and when to send promotional emails to.

I was also struck by the sending email address: [email protected]. Having also written and spoken about the topic of role-based emails extensively, I decided to have a little fun by replying:

Can you guess what kind of reply I got? Do you think it truly came from a human?

That struck me as pretty robotic and not at all human.

Luckily, a real person did eventually respond later that day:

After a slight stumble, Autonomous did eventually come through with some pretty good customer service. I wasn’t really mad to begin with, and definitely felt better after getting Kaitlin’s response. They even asked me to rate the support I had received:

Good job, Autonomous!

But the story isn’t over, dear friends. Remember when I said I didn’t receive the desk until 10/28/16?, a full month after this exchange? I received more emails from Autonomous in that time span:

Seven emails to be exact; six of which were appeals for that same chair!

Six appeals to a potentially still disgruntled first-time buyer who had not yet received their order. Six appeals for a product that is somewhat useless without said order.

Ironically, the appeals slowed down significantly after I received the desk (arguably the best time to start appealing to me):

Just one email (an appeal) in the subsequent 30 days.

So what’s the point of this standing desk rant?

Autonomous fell into a trap that many organizations do when it comes to email marketing and other mass communications: I became a customer on 9/1/16. I got subscribed to an already-planned or in-progress mass email campaign, regardless of my customer type or demographic, and – most importantly – was kept on that email marketing cadence regardless of the fact that my customer type changed (my order had been delayed and I had expressed negative feedback).

To put it simply: no course correction based on data segmentation occurred.

With data segmentation, I would have designed an email communication cadence along these lines:

  1. 9/1 – automatic receipt
  2. 9/1 – personal thank you
  3. 9/15 – customer story about a first-time desk user and how it improved their life (to get me excited about impending delivery)
  4. 9/28 – automatic shipping delay notification
  5. 9/28 – personal shipping delay apology
  6. 10/24 – automatic shipping notification
  7. 10/29 – personal inquiry into how I’m liking the desk
  8. 11/28 – chair appeal

The beauty of this cadence is that it’s tailored to me specifically based on the fact that I’m a new customer who didn’t have a great initial experience, and that it’s designed to mitigate the negative impact of that experience in order to create a lifelong customer relationship.

So what’s the application for nonprofits? Well, dear fundraiser, if you’ve been reading this with a schadenfreudian grin on your face, just know that nonprofits do this kind of thing all the time.

Someone becomes a first-time donor, and they get thrown into an already in-progress campaign. They receive communications not tailored to the fact that they are a new donor, but a one-size fits all campaign sent to every single email address or mailing address on file.

We send appeals to donors who haven’t been thanked for their first gift, because an email was already scheduled to be sent before we had time to thank them.

And it’s not just new donors. It’s any donor type based on recency, frequency, gift size, demographic, happiness, etc.

We ask monthly donors to join our monthly giving program.

We ask major donors to contribute $20 on #GivingTuesday.

We ask first-time donors who gave $20 on #GivingTuesday to consider planned giving.

We ask disgruntled donors to start a peer-to-peer campaign.

We ask donors in Texas to buy a ticket to our event in New Hampshire.

We send appeals to dead people.

It’s imperative that we abandon the one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns and begin crafting tailored campaigns for individual segments of our donor database.

Acknowledgements, appeals and stewardship pieces should look different for first-time donors, monthly donors, current major donors, major gift prospects, planned giving prospects, volunteers who have not donated, volunteers who have donated, etc., on and on to infinity. There is no limit to the amount of donor communications segments you create, and the more you do create the more personalized they will be.

According to the results of a Donor Voice survey, the #2 reason why donors stay loyal is that they “know what to expect from your organization with each interaction.” Setting this expectation is virtually impossible if you are not segmenting your donor data.

Focusing on first-time donors is a good place to start. They have the lowest retention rates and the highest acquisition cost. Create a documented communications plan for the, and only them. In other words, they only get what is on this plan and nothing else, regardless of whatever campaigns you’re planning or already have in-progress.

I love this first-year communications plan for Lori Jacobwith:

No matter when this donor gives, they only receive these communications in the fist year. If they give in October, they don’t receive your holiday appeal! If they give in March, they don’t get your spring appeal! They’re not ready for it.

You can create a plan like this for any donor type, and even create multiple variations based on gift size or reasons for giving.

Sending personalized communications is essential to building donor relationships that last. The alternative is throwing all of our donors into one bucket and hoping they don’t leak out (spoiler: they will).

Does your nonprofit segment its donor communications? If so, how? Let me know in the comments below!

For more ideas on how to get started segmenting your data for enhanced donor communications, download my free eBook:

PS if you work at Autonomous please know I’m not really mad, I love the desk and am grateful for the inspiration to write this!