Creating Donor Personas For Nonprofits: Why and How

donor personas

Running your nonprofit like a business just makes sense—even if you don’t want to say it out loud, or to your colleagues, or even to yourself. I get it. There’s stigma attached to thinking about supporters like clients, but if your operations depend on their financial contributions, you do have something to “sell”. And knowing everything about the individuals to whom you’re selling is the best way to increase revenue.

Why Do We Need Personas?

Since businesses couldn’t exist without customers, and the primary aim is to serve those people, it makes sense to invest in knowing who those clients and customers are.

Whether your organization is a corporation or a small nonprofit, it makes sense to think carefully about those who will be using your organization, how to reach them, and how to serve them better.

Nonprofits and Donor Personas

By thinking about donor personas, you can get a better idea of how to reach out to each kind of person that wants to donate to your organization. Consider the kinds of jobs they have, how old they are, and what issues they are concerned about.

You may discover that you’ve been embarking on a telephone or direct mail campaign when most of your donors prefer to be contacted by email. Or you may learn that the money you were planning to spend on a billboard would go further if you were to engage in a social media campaign.

How to Create Donor Personas

Now that you know the why of donor personas, here’s a look at how to go about creating one.

1. Check Your Records

Many nonprofits say that they don’t have the data or insights to create donor personas. You’d be surprised by how much data you have already—and how little you need to get started.

Check your records for basic information. See if you can identify some patterns. For example, are more of your donors male or female? If you know the occupations of your donors, this can give you an idea of their salary, which can help you reach out to potential donors with similar household incomes. If you can identify the ages of your donors, you can learn about generational traits and trends.

If you spot patterns, combine them, and you’ll be on your way to creating individual personas that will help you understand your donors better.

2. Ask Your Donors

While not everyone is willing to make a recurring contribution, you might find that previous donors are willing to help you find others.

Ask previous donors a few questions by phone, email, or online. Explain that you want to know more about the people giving to their cause so that you can reach out to similar people more effectively.

In this context, you can ask for key useful information, such as their location, their occupation and why they decided to give. Ask about the issues that concern them, and what they’re excited and hopeful about. You can ask questions about their aspirations for the future, and what their typical day looks like. All of these insights helps you understand how to market to them on their terms and with messaging that will resonate.

Don’t be afraid to ask for details, but make sure that at least some questions are optional and that filling in the survey or answering your questions on the phone doesn’t take too long.

3. Use Social Media and Your Website

Asking donors to provide a little information about themselves at the checkout process can help you build your donor personas.

Don’t ask for too much information here, though. You don’t want to risk your donor feeling that you’re invading his or her privacy, or that the donation process has become too time-consuming or overly complicated.

Carefully consider the key detail or details that you would like to know about your donors and ask.

Tip: You can always replace one question on the form with a new one, once you have a sufficient number of responses.

Creating a Donor Persona

There are several online tools that can help you create a donor persona, such as xtensio, makemypersona, or upcloseandpersona. Each offers an easy way to think about your donors and how to provide them with the experience they desire.

Whenever you make a communications decision at your nonprofit, think not only about those who will benefit from your organization’s work but those who will interact with your organization as well.

Creating donor personas is an effective way to wrap your head around all of these variables. Not only do they result in a tangible idea of the people you’re trying to reach, but the donor persona sheets should be shared throughout your entire organization.

Knowing your personas can transform the effectiveness of your nonprofit, long-term. Whether it’s your organization that’s shifting or your target donor demographics, keep an eye on your donor personas to ensure that your marketing efforts are on track.

Every minute spent working on your donor persona can both save your nonprofit time and increase income—a win-win in any organization.

Author: Kelly Campbell
Kelly Campbell (she/they) is a Trauma-Informed Conscious Leadership Coach, helping creative and technology leaders transform both life and agency. The former owner of a cause marketing firm for 14 years, her coaching and consulting work focuses on personal development, purpose, positioning, people, pipeline and profitability. She is the host of THRIVE: Your Agency Resource, a bi-weekly video podcast for agency leaders, sponsored by E2M and Workamajig. A keynote speaker at leadership conferences across the country, Kelly writes for Entrepreneur, and has been featured in Forbes, Woman Entrepreneur and The Startup on Medium. She is also the founder of Consciousness Leaders, a representation agency pairing trusted and diverse experts with organizations to create positive change and drive lasting results. She is currently authoring her first book on the connective tissue between healing trauma and becoming a conscious leader. Sign up for the book's pre-launch list here.

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