How to build Donor Personas for your Nonprofit

October 3, 2018 - 10 minutes read

Nonprofit organizations have hundreds or thousands of donors and supporters. And understanding them will go a long way in content creation, running campaigns, finding volunteers, and donor engagement and retention.

For this purpose, every nonprofit must build their donor personas.

Donor personas are created to help you in your fundraising and marketing efforts. They are a tool used to understand potential donors and supporters, i.e., where do you find them? How do they interact with you? What inspires them to give?

A persona is a semi-fictional person whose description fits a group of donors. For example:

Executive Emma
Age: 40-60. Holds a high position at jobs, usually business owners.
Donates >$250/per year, rarely volunteers.
Tech-savvy enjoys luncheons, black-ties, and auctions

Of course, a real persona needs to be much more detailed. And that’s what we’ll be covering with this article; how you can go about building donor personas for your nonprofit.

It’s just a matter of interviewing the right people, asking the right questions and presenting the information clearly.

Why Do We Need To Build Donor Personas?

Your supporter base is diverse. It includes donors who contribute regularly, people who volunteer, one-time donors and donors who vary their support every year. These people also vary in age, gender, profession, and location.

Donor personas help you learn about the habits and preferences of these supporters and segment your audience so the right message reaches the right group of people. A good donor persona prepares you to spot potential supporters and take your outreach strategy to the next level. It’s a good way to let your organization know how to reach donors and how to serve them better.

How To Build Effective Donor Personas?

Conduct Interviews

The first step to create a donor persona is to interview people. Whom you may ask. You can start off by interviewing donors, volunteers, and third-party networks. This means you need to get on the phone, send a personal email or use online conferencing softwares and conduct several interviews to get to know what inspires your target audience and who they are.

First, start with your existing donor base as they have already supported your cause. Reach out to a variety of donors that includes one-time donors, recurring donors, and large gift donors. Learn and define who each one is and the reasons for their support. This is will be important for developing your personas and for attracting potential donors and supporters.

You need to reach out to your past and present volunteers and find out more about them, like their reasons for supporting your organization, why they volunteered, etc. Since they’ve supported your organization in the past they are more likely to support you in other ways.

Third-party networks comprise of friends, family, and co-workers of your existing donor base. These people can be motivated to donate to your organization if someone from within their personal network is supporting your cause. Now, interviewing these people will provide insight into how you can reach a new donor base through a relative, friend or co-worker. These individuals may not know what your organization does but are more likely to extend support than a complete stranger.

Use Social Media Insights

While creating donor personas it is important to know who interacts with you on social media when they do it, and what other online channels they interact with you on.

Facebook Audience Insights helps you understand the demographics of the people who interact with your posts and account. This lets you know the traits of your audience, such as age, income, education level, their hobbies, etc.

Twitter Analytics is similar to Facebook. This can be used to see which platform your donor persona prefers. You can do this by comparing the number of impressions on both the platforms and note down which platform work for a particular persona.
Instagram Insights lets you see impressions, reach, website clicks, views, and follower demographics. It can be used to understand what people click on, what they search for, and how they use Instagram to find causes.

Use Your Finding To Create Your Donor Personas

Once you’ve gone through the above process, you’ll have large volumes of raw data about your potential and current donors. Next, you need to identify a pattern and develop a primary persona to share with your team. With this, your team will have an in-depth understanding of the person they are targeting.

Here’s how you can do it:

1) First, define “Who” your donor persona is, i.e., fill basic demographic information which includes background, demographics, and identifiers.

Persona Name: Executive Emma

Background: Here you need to mention occupation, education level, family life, marital status, and career path of your persona.
Demographics: Age, gender, income level and location (urban, suburban or rural)
Identifier: How they prefer to communicate with your organization, i.e., social media, text, email, or in-person. Where they find information and do research. Include mannerisms and buzzwords to identify them.

2) Next, pen down “What” you’ve learned about your persona’s motivations

Goals: List out your persona’s primary and secondary goals, it can be career goals or personal goals.
Challenges: Mention primary and secondary challenges to their success or the challenges they face.
How we can help: Here, state how your organization can help them meet their goals and overcome their challenges.

3) Help your team communicate better by adding the “Why” part in your donor personas.

Real quotes: Include quotes from donor interview to show your team what type of things they will say. This helps your staff to relate better and understand personas. The quotes can deal with challenges or goals or why or how they chose your organization.
Common objections: Why they would not donate to your organization and what to avoid during fundraising asks.

4) Last, Help with messaging by saying “How” your organization is the best bet.

Here, you need to mention how you will concisely describe your mission to the persona to get them to donate.
Elevator pitch: A short, sweet phrase to get them to donate or take a particular action.

For example, if your donor persona (Executive Emma) is a small business owner working in the renewable energy field. Then your marketing message can be about your work in aiding local communities in implementing renewable energy solutions or how your organization helps keep energy professionals up-to-date on industry trends. While pitching you can say: We need the help of those who excel in the field to help local communities.

The final step to personify your target audience is to give your persona a name and add an image. It should be something catchy that your nonprofit team can remember. Referring to your target audience as “Executive Emma” or “Student Sammy” or “Fundraiser Ferdie” will humanize your personas. For real-life images, you can visit sites like Creative Commons or iStockphoto.

Don’t Forget to Develop Negative Donor Personas

You need to stop wasting time, energy, and resources on audience groups with no scope of donations or other value-adds. List the traits you don’t want your donors to have and create a negative persona.

Understanding negative personas will help you identify the good one. For example, if the focus of your campaign is to support people with dementia, then marketing it to millennials will have negligible impact. Rather, focus on middle-aged people. They may have a parent or close relative with dementia, can relate to the cause better, and are more likely to support your cause. Here, millennials act as a negative persona.

Creating donor personas brings you closer to your prospective donor and supporter base. Donor personas help in crafting successful events, getting the word out through the right medium, and in tailoring, fundraiser asks. So, use the aforementioned methods to build personas for your nonprofit.