I'm noticing a disappointing trend toward sloppy personalization of fundraising appeals I'm getting lately. Just in the last month, I've gotten three from organizations I'm close to:

  1. The first, from my husband's alma mater, listed us a Margot & Steve Lester. I'm the Lester. He's Peha.
  2. Another, from my alma mater, lopped off my last name entirely.
  3. The last, from an organization on whose board I recently served, had my name in the wrong order and neglected to include a personal note on the form letter.

image of a fundraising letter on The Word Factory blog

Personalization & Automation Can Let You Down

Don't get me wrong. I love automation and I, myself, have used form mailings. But they can do you wrong if you're not paying attention.

  1. The first letter had to be a data entry error because we know he's in the system as an alum and donor.
  2. The second was clearly a merge error.
  3. And the last one? The name glitch was, again, a data entry error. I know they use a very lite donor management system (and even calling it that is a stretch), so they can't easily tag subcategories. So I reckon nobody bothered to go through the list (it's only a couple hundred people) to find previous board members and others close to the organization.

Why Automation & Personalization Miscues Impact Fundraising

Perhaps you think I'm being to harsh. After all, I didn't *not* give because of these errors. But that's because I'm close to the people who will actually use the money I give. Had these miscues been from an organization I wasn't closely tied to, it absolutely would have impacted my decision-making.


Because if you can't pay attention to details like getting our names right, or acknowledging our existing relationships with your organization, you erodes our trust in you to pay attention to other important details. Like financial stewardship, program integrity, etc.

How to Lower the Risk of Personalization Errors

The take-aways here:

  1. Check, check and check again when you're using automated personalization for fundraising or marketing.
  2. Make sure your data entry team is double-checking that it's got the right names in the right order.
  3. Invest the extra time to identify and appropriately tag VIPs so you can add a personal note or send an entirely different letter.

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