In the newest installment of the Data Unlocked Podcast, Jason Davis, Simon Data’s co-founder and CEO, links up with Abby Feuer, DonorsChoose’s Executive Vice President of Marketing and Growth. They chat about utilizing customers’ past behaviors to create data-driven marketing personalization. 

DonorsChoose is a nonprofit charity on a mission to make it easy for teachers and students to access the resources they need for a strong education. DonorsChoose faces the at-times difficult task of getting a steady stream of donors. After 21 years of positively impacting students across the nation, Feuer shares how her team has found success through several personalization methods. These include word of mouth, creating moments in the space, and targeting (and retargeting) personas.

Word of Mouth

It may seem old school, but DonorsChoose relies heavily on storytelling from existing benefactors; the organization believes that the best way to build trust is through a friend’s recommendation. While it sounds simple, DonorsChoose has several personalized email touchpoints that can spark these memorable conversations that might lead to a donation down the line. Feuer notes donors get a thank you note from the teacher, photos of the project in action, and a report on how the classroom used each dollar. The follow-ups from DonorsChoose often continue for months after an initial donation. This period allows for several opportunities for supporters to resurface their contributions with others in person or on social media. Additionally, these touchpoints drive visits back to the DonorsChoose website.

Most teachers who share their projects on DonorsChoose have been introduced to the program by word of mouth mention from friends, family, or colleagues. There are also seminars that teachers can attend to help onboard the platform and bring their vision to life.

These data-driven personalization efforts are often enough to encourage donors to share their experiences with others or even make a second contribution to a project. When there are lulls in classroom updates, DonorsChoose identified another method to re-engage contributors. 

Memorable Moments 

Feuer mentions that July and August, when teachers are preparing for the year ahead, are the most popular times for projects to be created and receive donations. Teacher Appreciation Week in May also garners a peak in attention on the platform. For the other nine months of the year, DonorsChoose has found success by spotlighting big moments that catch the attention of former contributors by creating a sense of urgency.

“We can create moments, like something around our anniversary with our most engaged donors, where we resurface the first project they ever gave to, to inspire them to give again. We rely on a lot of automated emails and messages based on historical preferences and giving behavior and then these big events throughout the year to drive reengagement.”

-Abby Feuer

These moments are when having historical and event-driven customer data can help marketers target the right people at the right time with compelling messages. Through Simon Data, DonorsChoose can view customer real-time and historical data in one place. An event that interests a donor based on their previous habit triggers a message alerting the donor of this item of interest. This sequence has proven to be effective in garnering more donations during these critical times. While these events have proven successful, DonorsChoose has also found success by learning more about their donors and patterns.

Targeting Personas with Data-Driven Personalization 

Simon Data also enables DonorsChoose to build segments around supporters who have already contributed. There are two factors that Feuer mentions are crucial in retargeting:

  1. Is there loyalty to a specific teacher?
  2. Is there a specific community or purpose that resonates?

Often friends or family members will support teachers in their life year-after-year to help their classrooms thrive. Others may focus on a sentimental donation to a school they attended or a cause that is close to their heart. It’s easy for DonorsChoose to send a follow-up message using Simon Mail if a favored teacher or school adds a new project or if a specific cause needs funding. Other factors that can strengthen personalized outreach include the acquisition source and how much money is required to complete the project.

Again, the key piece here is messaging donors at the right time with the right message to catch their attention. If you recall from episode three of the Data Unlocked series, finding the perfect moment is something Vivino struggled to capture. People don’t like receiving daily or non-purposeful emails. Digging into customer data is how marketers grow to understand who they are targeting and when the right time is to reach them. 

“What we have learned through research is that even if you’ve planned out how much you want to give to nonprofits in that year, through a compelling email or event, we can get you to give again. If you see a project that is related to a childhood memory, a geographic preference that matters to you, et cetera, we can inspire you to donate even if you weren’t planning to.”

-Abby Feuer


Data-driven personalization has always been important to DonorsChoose methodology; the organization has completed over two million projects by prioritizing them. Notably, the crowded nonprofit space makes it challenging at times to get noticed. As Feurer and Davis discuss on the podcast, a personalized campaign funnel can help distinguish one charity from the rest. DonorsChoose optimizes its marketing cadence and segmentation with Simon Mail, allowing the organization to craft campaigns and messaging driven by unified data. Thus, the impact of personalization speaks for itself, with over 5 million donors to the charity.

📚 Contribute to teachers in need using DonorsChoose – find a cause (or two) that resonates with you and help teachers supply books, cleaning supplies, technology, and more to help students get back to learning.


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