Create unique personas to help segment your constituents to send personalized, meaningful messages that will stand out from the crowd.

Many nonprofits have a one size fits all approach to fundraising appeals.  Or, if they segment their appeals, they base it on age, or giving history, or if they are very sophisticated, both.  I’m not saying that age and giving history aren’t important, of course they are.  But do all Millennials think alike?  Do all lapsed donors respond to the same appeal to “come back?”  Are all Boomers capable of giving multi-million dollar gifts?  No.  Donors and prospects are as individual as we are, and if you are going to be successful marketing your nonprofit mission to them, and help your nonprofit stand out from the crowd, you need to get creative.  The following steps will help you create personas that you can use in your donor and prospect marketing and solicitation segmentations. 

  1. Creating accurate and meaningful personas has its basis in understanding the driving behaviors and motivations of your supporters.  Your first step is to design a set of questions, like those below, that will help you uncover your supporter’s motivations and passions.
    • What are the age and other significant demographic characteristics of this person?
    • What are this person’s interests, goals and passions? Why is this person engaging with our organization?
    • What are this person’s giving habits?
    • What is this person’s giving capacity or ability to give?
    • What is this person’s preferred form of communication?
    • Is this person connected to other supporters through social or other networks?
  1. With these questions in hand, approach a variety of sources to gather answers. Ask them the specific questions you came up with in Step 1.  You may be surprised by how much they are willing to share.
    • Check with your colleagues who meet or interact most often with donors and prospects to get their take on their “ideal” donor.  Really dig for information they may not know they know – like what donors’ underlying motivations are.
    • Interview some donors, making sure to choose a variety of ages, those who give small gifts often, or large gifts occasionally, those who volunteer, and those who give by mail and email.  By interviewing as many different donors as possible, you’ll get richer information and more actionable results.
    • Develop an online survey to get more responses, basing answer choices and question wording on what you’ve learned from your personal interviews.
  1. It’s often hard to get all the information you want and need directly from your constituents.  You can get additional data from a qualified provider, including wealth, net worth, income, real estate value, interests, causes supported, nonprofit board volunteerism, political leanings, and more.  Determine what information you need and will help you most or approach your data partner for expert advice.
  1. Once you can answer the questions listed in Step 1 for a variety of donors, step back and look at the patterns that emerge.  Are some of your supporters activists, passionate about “being the change they want to see,” while others are more interested in giving back or “paying it forward?”  Develop a matrix -- like the one below for a sample environmental organization -- to identify and name specific segments of your constituency.
  Activists Repayers Green Lifestyle Small but Steady
Age & demographics 20-35, highly educated, single, 55-70, professional and retirees, married 35-65, single or married 60+, married or widowed
Interests, goals & passions Want to change the world, interested in advocacy and lobbying, taking part in events Want to do their part and express themselves by what they support.  May feel guilt that their generation did not do enough to protect the environment Believe in individuals each doing their part, contribute at the local level and support education initiatives to get others on board, good candidates for advocacy initiatives Very philanthropic and have been supporting the organizations they care about for years.  They consider their relationship with the nonprofit very deep and lasting.
Giving habits Small and sporadic, if at all Larger gifts, often major gift donors Smaller gifts and do volunteer locally for recycling and other initiatives Smaller gifts and may be monthly donors or give on an annual basis, but are unlikely to miss a payment.
Capacity to give Low level annual fund or events Many have major donor capacity, almost all capable of giving to the Golden Circle @$1K+ per year Moderate capacity Moderate capacity
Form of communication Mobile, email, web Mail, email, website Email, web, social Email, mail or telephone
Networks Social – esp. Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter Generally higher profile and serve on several nonprofit boards Social, esp Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ Not very active either on social media or serving on community boards
  1. Once you have some basic personas to work with, continue to refine and amend.  Each of these four personas can be sub segmented by age (Millennials, Gen X or Boomers), by giving history (current donor, lapsed donor, prospect), or by wealth or giving capacity (High, Moderate and Low).  And as we all know, donors change over time, so staying in touch with your donors, polling them on a regular basis, and collecting feedback is a necessity.  As trends change, be sure to update your personas, so you are talking in the most relevant way to those who support your common cause.

Try writing an appeal to each sub segment.  You’ll be surprised how different they sound!  And that’s a good thing.  Writing for distinct personas makes your message resonate and sing.

For more information on fundraising, nonprofit marketing and prospect research, join theWealthEngine Institute today!

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