Get GrittyAs someone new to the industry, I looked at the DMA Nonprofit Federation Conference earlier this month as an opportunity. It was an opportunity to meet people, to network; but most of all, it was an opportunity to learn where the industry has been and where it’s going.

The best part about the nonprofit industry is how much everyone wants every other person to succeed. Each session had valuable pieces of information that, if taken to heart, could be used by those attending to boost their fundraising success.

A few of the talks, though, were pure gold—lessons that anyone could take to truly bolster their fundraising capabilities. I’d like to offer a quick acknowledgment, a thank you to those who really helped everyone who listened get an important takeaway from this year’s conference. My top three sessions from the conference (in no particular order) are as follows:

1. “Dispelling Myths with Data and Donor File Analysis”

2. “The Donor Behind Door Number Two. Or Number Three? Insights Into Donor Personas and What Drives Different Donor Behavior

3. “RFM is (mostly) Dead! Long Live Segmentation and Customization!”

My general takeaway from the conference is fairly simple: Donations are harder to come by than ever, and organizations need to do everything they can to optimize what they’re doing.

The first area of focus, and a topic that came up often, was multichannel engagement. Blackbaud’s “2015 Charitable Giving Report” suggests that more and more donors are giving online. In 2015, online giving was up 9.2% compared to growth in overall giving at 1.6%. The first session I referenced, though, dispelled the myth that “We should just do this all online.”

While it’s important to recognize the need for an online fundraising program, it accounts for less than 10% of total giving, whereas direct mail makes up 80% of that total. An important note, though, is that those donors contacted through more than one channel (i.e., online and direct mail), are significantly more valuable than those donors who are reached via only one source. The lesson here is that you really should have programs for every channel, and cultivate donors in each to maximize your returns from them and improve their LTV.

Another trend that I noticed during the conference was the necessity of better segmentation. Your donors are more than simple RFM numbers. Yes, you can gain some understanding by knowing how recently a donor gave. Yes, you can learn something about a donor by their frequency of donations. What you won’t know, and what is truly vital to optimizing everything from ask strings to selects, is why the donor is giving.

Throughout the sessions, countless variables related to segmentation were mentioned. They ranged from catalog purchasing history to home ownership to adults in household. I can’t speak to the correlative nature of any of these, as the data wasn’t presented with the suggestions, but I can give you a few that were presented alongside a logical argument of why they were predictive.

That second “golden” session I mentioned earlier did a fantastic job of breaking down what really makes a donor a donor. For those of you who don’t want to look up the presentation, here are the basics: someone who is around retirement age, with their kids out of the house, and some level of disposable income. While things like age are related to that, the root reason why someone donates isn’t because they got older. Using RFM with variables like the number of adults in the household, donor income level, home ownership, and age can paint a clearer picture as to who is going to be a more valuable donor and who you, as an organization, should focus on to optimize your spending.

The last of my highlighted sessions drove home the point of RFM+. The concept is that while RFM is a good base, building off of it is now a necessity. That talk also brought up more factors that could be used, but the most important note was the personification of donor groups. By grouping donors into behavioral groups, you are more capable of delivering a message that will resonate with the individuals you reach. A couple examples offered can be seen below:


The lessons I learned from this conference are things that will help me, and hopefully you as well, as a fundraising professional moving forward. While I highlighted a few of the sessions I thought were most valuable, you can see all the presentations from the conference on their website.

Special thanks to the presenters in order of citation:
—Allison Porter, Avalon Consulting; and Laura Connors, National Parks Conservation Association
—David Strauss, The Nature Conservancy; Jeff Howard, Infogroup; and Liz Buderus, Epsilon
—Greg Fox, Merkle; Dorene Ocamb, MADD; and John Ernst, Wiland

Grant Novins is a Marketing Data Analyst at Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. Contact us at; subscribe to our newsletter here; and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.