March 3, 2009

DonorCast Book Review: Microtrends

For those that follow the field of political or opinion polling closely, Mark Penn is known as both legendary (he literally coined the term “soccer mom”) and polarizing (he rubs many other pollsters the wrong way, both personally and methodologically). Putting aside all that I knew of him—I found myself drawn to the premise of his book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes.

Penn was a pioneer of the process of micro targeting, particularly in the political sphere, under the hypothesis that small numbers of like-minded people may be the future moving forces behind our world. In Microtrends, Penn identifies 70 groups that make up 1% of the population of the United States (roughly 3 million per group). He explains why they are important to identify (or “micro target”), as well as suggestions for responding to their interests and harnessing their energy. Some examples include “Extreme Commuters” (Josh is one), “Young Knitters,” “Vegan Children,” “Archery Moms,” and even “Numbers Junkies” (where I self-identify).

Some of the groups sound like they have transformative potential (the “High School Moguls” for example) where others sound more like just narrow interest groups (“New Luddites”). Still I think there are some important lessons, and perhaps the seeds of provocative questions, that can be taken from Penn’s work if you examine his premise from a higher altitude.

In fundraising, the idea of micro targeting may sound second nature to many of us. Development professionals spend a lot of time segmenting and targeting folks by broad interest groups (athletics, arts, alumni) and by giving capacity (major giving, annual fund). But have you stopped to consider a perhaps more complex, and certainly smaller segment of your donor database? Do you closely follow former members of a campus group from a certain decade, or people with certain double majors, or maybe even those who give money just to increase their standing for better tickets to athletic events (I might fall under all three).

Certainly many databases might not have 70 groups lying within, just waiting to have their passions and interests spoken to, and energy harnessed. I will challenge you however, to step outside the traditional segments in the fundraising canon, pick different selection criteria, or identifying characteristics, and see if you can find Microtrends for your own organizations.

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