; ;

Meet Alex Kauffman. He’s a single male, 27 years old, with a bachelor’s degree in advertising. He works as a graphic designer for a small advertising agency with fewer than 50 employees. Eventually, he wants to be promoted to a creative director position. He’s been out of college for about five years. Alex values giving back to the community, education and the arts, especially live theater. He gets his news and information from online news sites, apps, social media (especially Twitter) and friends.

Plot twist: Alex is not real. But getting to know Alex could prove crucial for your organization.

What is a marketing persona?

Alex is a marketing persona—a fictitious character you create to represent one of your audience segments (donors, volunteers, advocates, etc.). You could create a persona for each one of your segments, but this is definitely an inside job; it’s a tool you use behind the scenes to better understand your target audience, how to motivate them to support your organization and how to thank them for their loyalty. The better you define your personas, the easier it will be to create your marketing communications and speak the language that really resonates with your tribe as well as potential donors you want to recruit. You want to put a face and personality to your personas to make them as effective as possible, like this:

Alex is engaged and ready to put down roots in the Denver area where he’s lived most of his life. He’s familiar with his community and wants to make a difference for those less fortunate, especially young people who want to go to college but can’t afford it. He’s been active in several local organizations, and is the type of donor who will roll up his sleeves and volunteer when he finds a nonprofit that he’s passionate about, like his community theater. He’s into sports and traveling, and continues his education, attending night classes as he’s able.

How to create marketing personas for your nonprofit in 4 steps.

Step 1: Get to know the people in your database.

This is where creating personas begins—with the people in your database. If we understand the psychographics of our current donors, this helps us in two ways: We know better how to talk to them so we can both motivate and thank them in a way that resonates, and it informs our messaging for going after potential donors who are similar.

Psychographics goes beyond the typical classifications we can know about someone (like their gender or age) and studies attitudes, aspirations and interests. As you find similarities in groups of people in your database, you begin to develop personas.

Much like nonprofit storytelling humanizes your organization, personas put a name to faceless demographics. They represent a particular market segment. Of course, a market segment doesn’t donate to your cause; real people do. A persona basically turns a market segment into an individual—like Alex.

To start, pull any reports that may give you some initial demographic data such as:

  • Where do they live (city, ZIP code, neighborhood)?
  • What’s the dominant gender, if any?
  • Is there a typical income bracket?
  • Age range?
  • Who are your most frequent donors?
  • Who gives only once a year?
  • What types of companies give to your cause?
  • Are particular professions interested in your cause?
  • Do the various programs you offer attract different types of donors?
  • Who attends your fundraising events?
  • Are any of your donors also volunteers or program recipients?

From your list of donors, get a good cross-section and plan to interview at least 20–25 in order to get to know more about them in a way that might be helpful, like these details about our friend, Alex:

With a busy schedule and an impending wedding, Alex doesn’t have a lot of extra time or money, though he has enough margin financially to give regularly to one or two organizations. He doesn’t spend much time watching TV outside of sports, and therefore relies heavily on social media (particularly Twitter) to keep him updated on current events and world news.

His smartphone is his lifeline to his family, friends and the brands/organizations he follows. He regularly uses it to purchase products and services as well as make donations, especially when his peers reach out to him with crowdfunding opportunities. He’s likely to donate to causes his friends recommend, if he’s able. His friends play an influential role in his life.

Step 2: Start talking.

Once you’ve got a list of 20-25 to interview, plan how you want your conversations to go. Donor interviews should be unstructured but direct. Here are some valuable insights you want to glean:

  • How your nonprofit intersects with their life.
  • How they decide to give.
  • How they like to be asked to give (phone, mail, in person, events).
  • How they like to give (online, credit card, mail).
  • When they like to give.
  • Where they find information.
  • Why they may not give.
  • What they expect from your nonprofit organization.
  • What other organizations they support.
  • What gets them to take action.

Based on your conversations, you should learn some key insights like these:

Before Alex commits to either making a donation, attending an event or volunteering for a new nonprofit, he looks at their website and checks out their financial info on Charity Navigator. It’s important to him that he’s able to donate online and that an organization has received favorable reviews from other donors.

Why Alex donates:

  • He’s committed to his community.

  • He appreciates their mission or he shares their passion about a particular cause.

  • He likes that he feels his dollars actually make a difference.

  • They offer opportunities for him to get involved beyond making a gift.

  • His friends have influenced his giving decisions.

Step 3: Group donors into categories.

Your categories are initially based on assumptions. Some category examples could be volunteers who also give, mothers of small children, business owners, etc. The point now is to start segmenting.

After you’ve developed a few categories, start looking at your data for other characteristics in each category. For instance, business leaders may give because they believe your organization helps position them as a well-respected business in the community. Moms may give because your mission to help children has captured their heart and they’re all about making the world a better place for their kids.

Here’s a list of characteristics to look for:

  • Motivations to give
  • Values
  • How they decide to give
  • How they like to be asked
  • Personal goals
  • Profession
  • Frequency of giving

In Alex’s case, we may have discovered by now that:

Alex wants to support a local nonprofit that directly impacts his community. When he finds an organization he wants to support regularly, he likes to donate online in a “set it and forget it” fashion or via text, where it’s easy and low effort. He doesn’t want to be reminded to give, but he appreciates information. Therefore, we’d want to encourage him to sign up for recurring donations, subscribe to our newsletter so we can update him on where his money is going, and give him opportunities to volunteer. Since peer influence is an important factor, we’d also want to give him opportunities on social media to tweet or post about our organization and help us expand our reach.

Continue to segment and categorize until you’ve come up with three to seven personas. Eventually you’ll develop a personality, a name and other lifelike attributes for your personas so you get to the point where you have a handful of personalities like Alex, and you’ve developed a collection of personas that represent your donor database well.

The more fictional details you give about your persona’s life, the more memorable they become. Have fun with this! Give your persona a name, write about a day in their life at work and home, their likes and dislikes, where they’ve come from and where they’re going. Find photos that represent each persona’s lifestyle.

Step 4: Introduce your marketing personas to your team.

Showtime! Now you get to introduce your new personas to your staff. This is an opportunity to get buy-in and inspire people to become more personalized in the way they approach and appreciate constituents. And don’t forget: As new people come on board, introduce them to all your personas, especially if they’ll be playing a role in communications. It’s the perfect way to give them a taste of who supports your organization.

Use your marketing personas to connect with your nonprofit’s audience.

So, maybe you’ve already done all this in your nonprofit, in which case, great job! You know and understand exactly who your donors are, how to best communicate with them, what motivates them—and what doesn’t. Plus, you know what language to use (and where) to acquire new donors, depending on what segment they fit into.

Or . . . this might all sound like a lot of work and you’re still wondering, “Who’s Alex?” We totally get you. Creating marketing personas is a lot of work. But it’s a valuable endeavor for your nonprofit when it comes to both donor retention and acquisition.

We’d love to help. Check out our Building Connections quick-activation marketing program and work with our marketing experts to learn who your donors really are (not just who you think they are), what makes them tick and how to connect with them in a way that keeps them engaged beyond a single donation. Ready to meet your own Alex along with a few others? Introductions are in order; let’s go.