The Guide to Creating Marketing Personas for Your Nonprofit

If you’re new to nonprofit marketing, there’s a chance you’ve had to create some buyer personas. But what are “buyer” personas doing in nonprofit marketing model and, more importantly, why should you prioritize them?

Personas are essentially a representation of a group of consumers who have similar goals, buyer habits and personal profiles.

Personas help organizations narrow down their target audience and delve deeper into their needs. You can fine-tune your marketing strategies by anchoring them to your audience’s real, living needs or desires, rather than throwing out messaging that’s too vague, too robotic, or that simply misses the mark.

Why are personas important to nonprofits?

Although nonprofits are just that, not-for-profit, the bottom line remains much the same as for-profit businesses: Consumers are consumers. Revenue is revenue. Growth is growth. The same people willing to support a cause are also those looking to put their money behind products, services and mission statements they believe will make the world a better place.

In the world of nonprofits, however, growth metrics are more often tied to engagement, membership and donations. And, let’s face it, you can’t always get everything done with wide-net fundraisers. The most successful nonprofits have a well curated group of donors, folks with whom they have cultivated and retained long term relationships. In other words, a smaller net with maximized returns.

To strike the right balance between seeing your stakeholders as partners and recognizing them as consumers, you should first understand which audience is most aligned with your mission, and who will push for your organization to succeed.

They believe your values can change the world and they’re willing to help, but first they need to trust you. Creating buyer personas is one step in the process of cultivating intentional community.

How to create nonprofit personas

1. Interview your stakeholders.

Get to know your people. The best qualitative research often boils down to genuine conversation. Field research, anthropology, and ethnographic analysis are useful, sure, but when it comes right down to it, honest curiosity can give you all the data you need to be successful.

Rather than assume you already have what people are looking for when engaging with a nonprofit, ask them what they need. Identify key members of your target audience, speak to them and allow their answers to be your guide. These conversations will ensure your message and values are aligned and impactful to those seeking the service you provide.

Create a Community database and post questions like:

  • Who are your most frequent (active) donors?
  • Who only gives every so often?
  • Do any companies donate to your cause? If so, what kinds? When and why?
  • Have you noticed members of a certain profession tend to donate?
  • Are there any particular programs that tend to garner more revenue than others?
  • Who attends your fundraising events?

Identify commonalities across people you service and form specific groups. Recruit (2-3) people from these groups, and schedule 30-45 minute meetings. Record these meetings in order to analyze patterns and introduce new groups you may not have noticed prior to making these calls.

Consult with all of your stakeholders, not just the ones who are actively and frequently giving (though they are important) but with all the folks helping you be good stewards of these donations. Check in with volunteers, members (past and present), speak with staff and clients too. And never forget about lapsed donors: what’s changed for them and what’ll it take to re-engage?

Audience perspectives like these will yield critical insights into what stories and needs drive your consumers. In turn, you’ll be able to strengthen the blueprint for your organization, one which puts faces to your values.

Bear in mind, of course, that the data you receive from active donors doesn’t account for everyone. Those who are already in your corner are very different from the rest of the population. After all, they have a vested interest in your organization already. So cross-check your data with industry publications and trend reports. Your goal here isn’t to verify or validate your numbers, but to understand the larger story, the context in which your nonprofit operates. Cross referencing will also give you even more nuance when it comes to testing different methods for engaging your audience.

2. Learn how to talk to them.

Donor interviews are unstructured but direct conversations. Ask for the answers that will serve your purpose and when points of commonality emerge, use these elements to construct persona profiles.

As these profiles begin to take shape, you can ask more pointed questions about a donor’s motivations in order to better understand their individual decision making processes.

  • How does our nonprofit intersect with your life?
  • How do you decide to give?
  • How do you like to be asked (phone, email, in person events)?
  • How do you like to give (Online, credit card, cash)? And When?
  • How do you find information?
  • Why don’t you give?
  • What do you expect from our organization?
  • What other organizations do you support?
  • What motivates you to take action?

Categorize your stakeholders into psychographic groups based on attitudes, aspirations and interests as well as more obvious traits such as age, gender and lifestyle choices.

The attributes, characteristics, habits, and shared goals you learn throughout this process will help tailor your message and widen your margin of success with future/potential donors.

When you find certain people fall into specific categories, you can begin to mold your conversation to meet their interests.

It may even be helpful to give your personas names, and specific personalities so that speaking to and about them feels like speaking to or about folks you actually know.

Remember, market segments don’t donate to your cause, real people do.

3. Keep the data close.

Now that you’ve found your intersections. Be strategic in selecting a target audience that resonates with your purpose.

Where does your mission converge with their values? How does your organization make the world a bigger, better place for your donors and what kinds of people tend to back your cause?

With the right personas at play, your messaging strategy will be naturally tailored for success. If done well; with intention and genuine curiosity, it won’t even feel like “strategy”. You’ll simply be talking to your constituents, folks who also happen to be your most engaged and lucrative audience. The more specific your personas, the more likely you’ll be able to motivate, and thank your donors in resonant ways.

4. “Understand ‘Negative Personas’”

In doing this, you’ll likely find those who simply do not resonate with your mission. This is a good thing. You can’t please everyone. Look at your data and decide who has the lowest rate of interest (or return on investment) and don’t waste time or resources trying to sway them. Trust your purpose enough to know that when and if they want the service you provide, they’ll find you because you’re the best in the game.

Build nonprofit personas with an agency that gets it.

We speak nonprofit. (It’s our favorite language.) So Big Sea is here for the change you’re making – from grassroots community programs to mutual aid organizations and national brands. And with us, you’ll see real results. We’re particularly proud of the work found in these case studies.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you build a meaningful, memorable brand strategy for your nonprofit.