Zero-Party Data in the Age of AI: Marketing Strategy and the Future of Data Privacy

For marketers, data means power, which is essential for delivering the type of tailored marketing that donors demand. With rising data privacy concerns, and incoming legislative changes, being accountable and clear about how you gather that data is essential.

If you work with marketing at a fundraising organization, zero-party data and first-party data can be your best friend. Zero-party and first-party data are the most robust data you can safely obtain and both provide great quality without compromising privacy. 

What is zero-party data?

Zero-party data is data that a constituent intentionally and proactively shares with your brand. Because the donor voluntarily agrees to share personal data, the exchange develops trust and transparency, increasing the likelihood that the brand connection will be maintained. 

First-party data is information gathered passively as a result of user interactions.  Constituent information is compiled using software and systems used by your organization, the term "first-party" refers to the party who gathered the data firsthand.

Second-party data is another organization’s first-party data that can be directly purchased or obtained from the source. Typically, it is collected from trusted partners who have agreed to share the data, which might mutually benefit both businesses.


Third-party data can help brands to understand the behavior and demographics of donors in general. A major disadvantage of third-party data is that it is statistical and aggregated in nature and not gathered directly from the source.

Why is zero party data so important?

  • This data can train AI systems to become more accurate predictions of donor behaviour.

  • Without accurate data, personalization is impossible

  • Because the data is given by the constituents directly, it is conclusive and trustworthy. Zero-party data offers you direct access to the intentions of your constituents

  • Donors may feel actively involved in their donor experience by contributing zero-party data, there is massive potential for marketers to develop closer relationships between their organization and their donors.

  • Advantages in terms of privacy. Constituents are encouraged to contribute information about themselves openly and it is not gathered in the background without their knowledge.

  • You can uncover new audiences that you weren’t aware of before, and segment them based on what they care about.

Why is first-party data so important?

  • It improves personalization. Awareness of what your constituents are interested in requires a detailed understanding of their behaviors, interactions, and marketing activity across devices.

  • You may use this information to adapt your messaging to their specific interests, such as the funds they recently donated to.

  • You can use first-party data to target distinct personas across channels.

  • It strengthens your marketing. Because you gather first-party data from your platforms, it has a longer lifespan than a cookie. You keep a one-on-one relationship with your constituent as long as they continue interacting.

  • Knowing a donor’s giving history and brand interactions allows for constituent segmentation and targeting, this data is used to segment your audience and send personalized emails to that segment and increase conversion.

What’s the difference between zero-party and first-party data?

The primary distinction between first-party and zero-party data is that obtaining zero-party data requires direct contact with your target audience. First-party data, on the other hand, provides insights from analytics and user activity.

When a donor shares zero-party data they know they are sharing their information with you and they are directly involved. However, while sharing first-party data, donors may not be explicitly aware of this action, and the involvement is indirect like what they clicked on in an email. 

As data privacy becomes more essential to donors and organizations alike, it is critical to invest in a strategy that prioritizes privacy, and to make sure your privacy policy is easily accessible and up to date.

Zero-party data and Opt-in is the future 

If your organization has been heavily reliant on purchasing third party data, then you’ll need to start building your dataset with zero-party and first party data in order to harness the power of artificial intelligence. Organizations can train their AI systems to become more accurate predictors of donor behavior which directly feeds into improving their marketing and fundraising efforts and creates a more personalized donor-centric experience.

By applying an opt-in marketing strategy and relying on zero-party data, not only do organizations achieve an AI advantage but also improve their brand value thanks to their transparent data usage practices. 

Here are some quick tips for an Opt-in strategy to get you started:

  • Create valuable content

You need to have a good reason for people to opt-in to your communications. If there's no incentive, there's no reason for them to opt-in. Do you have any data that suggests what a segment of your constituents care about? Perhaps you have a population that donated to an environmental initiative, start with that segment of people and reflect back the impact that their contribution has had and what they are helping to make possible through their support. 

  • Link to premium content: try creating a blog

Try adding value to the community by creating premium content, you can link to this content in your campaigns. It can help further demonstrate impact, and make donors feel part of something larger. 

  • Keep signups simple

When it comes to opt-in emails, try to keep the signup process as simple as possible to make it easier for people to opt-in. All you really need to get somebody to join your mailing list is their email, so don’t make email sign up members create an account or provide a bunch of information you don’t need.

  • Ask donors to Opt-In at checkout when they make a donation online

A small checkbox asking donors to opt-in to communications when making a donation will give you a start on an explicitly subscribed list of donors. You can even communicate to them that your organization cares about their privacy and sending them relevant communications so you are taking steps to adopt an opt-in strategy. 

  • Progress over perfection and listen to feedback

Things don’t always go perfectly the first time around. There’s nothing wrong with giving something your best shot and making changes based on the feedback you receive, especially when it comes to your email marketing campaign. Marketing emails should be focused on providing value to the reader, so you want to design your emails around what the donors want. 

Bio: Kristopher has over 18 years of marketing experience in both Canada and the USA and 8 years experience in fundraising for Canadian charities. With an emphasis on multi-channel direct marketing, Kristopher has managed over $7 million dollars in annual donations integrating direct mail, digital including predictive modelling, face-to-face and telemarketing strategies to drive growth and lifelong donor journeys. 

“The concept of digital fundraising today must include predictive modelling/machine learning. Including machine learning in the mix ensures that you’re driving down your cost of funds raised while ensuring that no donor feels overlooked because you’re providing meaningful, personalized stewardship touch points at the right time in their donor journey.”
-Kristopher Gallub, Fundmetric Fundraising Liaison