How Much Content Do I Need for Personalization in Donor Outreach?

Peter Caron

Vice President, Software Products

August 17, 2020

When considering AI-driven personalization, institutions—particularly smaller ones—wonder whether they have enough content. I hear comments like:

  • “We only create a handful of articles a month.”
  • “I’m the only content writer.”
  • “We don’t have any new athletics content with COVID-19.”
  • “We produce a monthly email newsletter but we only have one version.”

Most RNLQuadWrangle™ clients feature about 12 articles per month on their news page. Large institutions, like those with popular athletics programs, may have 100+ articles or more per month. However, it’s not uncommon to see successful personalization with only three to six articles per month.Here’s how that’s possible.

AI and personalization: Engage your supporters with content they care about

Personalized campaigns can be successful with just a few new articles per month because AI-driven personalization can improve donor engagement in two very significant ways: learning and recommended content.

  • Learning is how a continuous AI system analyzes how constituents interact with any content over time (whether recommended or not) to understand their interests. Learning includes information about an individual as well as content consumed.
  • Recommended content turns learning into targeted content for donors. The AI compares each constituent’s interests with the topics of each article automatically and tailors content with the best match.

Here’s a simple example. The left side of the following table shows the top five interests from a constituent’s selected content. The right side of the table shows topics in an article that best matches those interests.

ranked in order of interest
ranked based on what’s included
alumni and reunions mission statement committee
grants, scholarships and financial aid alumni and reunions
art and entertainment grants, scholarships and financial aid
commencement speech graduate school
graduation college administration

The AI looks to make as good of a match as possible between the constituent’s interests and the content that’s presented. In this case, the constituent’s interests include articles with words that fit categories the AI recognizes such as alumni and reunions and grants, scholarships, and financial aid. It “sees” that the article’s top five topics include full text concepts such as mission statement committee that are important to the article and generate the interest categories. The constituent has many more interests and the article also includes topics outside of the constituent’s known interests, but because there is a high percentage of matching between the constituent’s interests and the article’s topics, it’s presented to the constituent.

Over time, this matching grows even more precise, as the AI adjusts when the constituent clicks on articles. The topics from those are then added to the constituent’s long list of interests, boosting the alumni and reunions and grants, scholarships, and financial aid categories for the constituent.

Learn first, personalize over time

With Netflix or Amazon, what you watch or buy influence what’s recommended to you in the future. AI-driven personalization in alumni engagement works the same way: you learn first, and then personalize later.

This personalization thrives on the history to make recommendations. Without a history of choices, say with a new constituent, personalization tends to start with a default set of articles. As choices are made, the system learns with each interaction. Greater distinction between those choices will make it easier for the AI to analyze and determine if a constituent’s interests than if those choices are similar. Therefore, it’s more important to provide 3 articles on 3 different subjects than to provide 100 articles on the same subject.

Take inventory: It’s the breadth of your content that matters

Using existing content with AI to increase donor personalization.
You have more content than you think – and AI can help categorize and match it to your donors’ interests.

Variety matters more than volume. Chances are, you will find a high volume of varied content if you take an inventory of what you already have.

You probably already know the content in these areas:

  • Newsletter articles
  • Articles in the last 6 months
  • Blogs
  • Press releases
  • Athletics news

Keep in mind, when you move your existing newsletter over to an AI-driven platform, it continues operating without any recommendations but will still collect interests from your constituents based on their interactions. So you just need to keep doing what you’re doing for the first month or so after adopting an AI platform before you need to add recommendations and variable content.

You likely have many existing sources of content already.
Content from personalization can come from numerous sources, whether it’s your news feed, arts program, athletics, or even campus offices like career services.

You already have “timeless” content waiting

Next on your inventory, remember the power of nostalgia. You have “timeless” content like visit videos, photo galleries with captions, and quotes. Some of the most popular pieces are remembrances for professors and other notable members of the community. People want to stay in touch and remember those who have shaped them.

Don’t forget social media content. Your institution’s Facebook page, LinkedIn page,and YouTube channel are great sources of content as well.

Look outside of your staff as well. Use the voices of student groups, alumni,and others. Sharing articles from their publications provide diverse voices that appeal to a wider range of interests.

Finally, consider news makers. Do you have notable alumni in the arts, sciences, sports, or business? Prize winners or achievers who have been honored for their accomplishments? Recent grads who are sharing engaging stories of how they are making a difference, increasing inspiration, or just providing a little levity? A title, image, and a short blurb is often all you need to share news.

It’s easier than you think to get started with AI-personalized content

Because a big part of the value from AI-driven content is the “listening,” you can start right away, and build your content resources over time. You’ll find that even the smallest shops have sources for hundreds of pieces of content. The most important thing is to get started now, so you can capture the interests of your constituents immediately, and in just a short time you’ll be able to surprise and delight them with personalized content that will increase engagement, and giving.

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About the Author

Peter Caron

Peter Caron serves the RNL team as the lead innovator of RNL’s next-generation engagement platforms, including RNL ScaleFunder, RNL QuadWrangle, and AL, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) for fundraising. A seasoned tech leader, Peter specializes in...

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