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Case Study: Lifestyle Data Lifts Gift Size for Heifer International

November 9, 2012 By Heather Fletcher
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Nascar fans are less likely to donate cows to African farmers in their friends’ names for Christmas, but organivores might, Heifer International found in a case study detailed by the charity’s donor conversion manager on Oct. 16 at DMA2012 in Las Vegas.

“If your marketing is not taking into account who they are as a person” Heifer’s Ashley Michael says, nonprofits will just push out the same message over and over again.

While the Nascar fans vs. organivore discovery may seem intuitive, Michael says insight Heifer gained through appending lifestyle data to its new donor and “sustainer” lists helped improve fundraising messaging. The company Heifer hired to help with that task, Little Rock, Ark.-based Acxiom, also participated in the Oct. 16 presentation titled “High-Value Audiences Help Feed Millions for Heifer International.”

Unlike the usual marketing campaign that just goes after the monetary conversion first, Rob DiCesare—marketing analytics director at Acxiom—says Heifer’s program of first connecting emotionally with donors, then seeking their donations, resulted in a 30 percent increase in the average gift amount.

Michael says modeling allowed Heifer to do what DiCesare mentioned—discover donors who could emulate Heifer’s best givers. If Heifer provided the proper motivation, those new donors would become “sustainers” through monthly gifts.

But first, Heifer had to figure out who they were. Michael says there, Heifer found a big surprise: The organization was “losing touch” with a lot of its 40- to 50-year-old donors. Plus, Heifer’s potential donors in this age range are “heavy social users,” DiCesare adds.

Like many nonprofits, Heifer raises funds primarily from older donors. In this organization’s case, 70 percent of them tend to use direct mail, watch television and skew female, DiCesare says.

Then Heifer sees “a significant response” from donors aged 25 to 35, Michael says. Part of the reason for that may be because “these types of causes are passed along generations now,” DiCesare says.

So, in addition to spending 1.5 years gaining a better understanding of the donors in its database, Michael says the deep dive allowed Heifer to target better messaging to the “sustainers” most likely to yield larger gifts. Plus, targeting only that group helped reduce marketing costs. While Acxiom helped Heifer find out who the sustainers were based on demographics (age, income and net worth) and transactional data (recency, frequency and monetary amount), it may have been the emotional connection based on interests that helped Heifer create messaging that really made the difference.

Knowing, for instance, that the best donors tended to be interested in environmental causes, art, coin collecting, keeping houseplants alive and eating organic food helped Heifer know which of its missions to detail. “Heifer's story is very moving,” Michael says. So what’s more important to this donor? Is it women’s empowerment that happens when they can provide for their families by caring for livestock donated through Heifer? Or is it stories about the animals themselves, like the llamas raised for their wool?

Michael says Heifer will now use the concept of donor motivations on its entire file—with added insight from self-declared interests in givers’ survey responses to guide the creative in fundraising messages.

“We definitely saw a one-plus-one-equals-three” effect from adding hobbies and lifestyle information to regular data, DiCesare concludes.

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