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Financing Not Fundraising: Create Donor Personas

By Nell Edgington

targetThere’s a key practice in business marketing, creating buyer personas, that I think nonprofit fundraisers would be wise to adopt. It is a great fallacy of nonprofit fundraisers to think that anyone with money is a potential donor to their organization. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you want to really succeed in bringing new donors in the door, you need to get smart and strategic about reaching the right target markets for your specific nonprofit, which is the topic of today’s post in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.

Smart marketing is about reaching a specific target of people whose values intersect with your nonprofit’s unique ability to address a community need, like this:

Marketing image.027

This means that you don’t want to send your message out to everyone and anyone. Rather you want always to target a specific communication to those unique people for whom it would resonate.

In the business world, this is called creating “Buyer Personas.” And I think nonprofit fundraisers should develop “Donor Personas.”

Creating Donor Personas means organizing your donor base into groups of people based on demographics, interests, lifestyle choices, etc. Then you want to find out as much as you can about those groups in order to clone them.

So, for example, an animal shelter might have the following beginning list of Donor Personas:

  • Animal Activist
    These donors are 16-30 years old, highly motivated, interested in advocacy and changing laws and systems to make the world a safer place for animals.
  • Pet Lover
    These donors are 25-65 years old and have adopted a pet from the shelter in the past few years. They aren’t politically active, but rather are very grateful for the newest member of their family.
  • Dog Devotee
    These donors may have may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are fierce dog lovers. They don’t understand cats and are not interested in them.
  • Cat Fanatic
    Again these donors may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are obsessed with cats and their welfare.

So how do you go about developing your Donor Personas? Start with these four steps:

  1. Group Current Donors
    Take a look at your current donor base. Can you place people into profile groups like I did with the animal shelter above? What do some of your donors have in common? Do patterns and groupings start to emerge around a combination of demographics, lifestyle choices and/or worldviews?

  2. Ask Questions
    Select a handful of current donors in each donor persona group and give them a call or send them an email. Tell them that you simply want to understand their motivations for giving so that you can find more like-minded people. Ask them a handful of questions like “Why do you give to us?” “Where did you hear about us?” “What do you do in your free time?” “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” Anything that will help you understand better what motivates them to give, how they make decisions, where they hang out, etc.

  3. Create Profiles
    Armed with a deeper understanding of what makes these different groups tick, flesh out your donor personas. Give each group a descriptive name, like “Pet Lovers” above, list their various characteristics (demographics, interests, anything you know about them). Then circulate these donor persona descriptions to your staff and board. You might even want to attach a fictional picture to each persona to make it more visually captivating.

  4. Market to the Personas
    Now that you understand your donor groups better, create different content and opportunities that resonate with these different groups. For example, you might want to engage your “Animal Activists” via social media when the city council is threatening to pull some of your shelter funding, but you might ask “Pet Lovers” to virtually adopt shelter animals with a monthly contribution. Now that you know your Donor Personas better make sure you target all of your marketing and fundraising activities accordingly.

Stop telling your story to anyone and everyone. Start figuring out what motivates those who already love you and use that information to build an army of additional supporters.

If you want to learn more about finding individual donors, download the Creating a Major Donor Campaign step-by-step guide. And if you want to move your nonprofit from fundraising to financing, check out the e-books, guides and webinars that can get you started on the Financing Not Fundraising page.

Photo Credit: Camera John


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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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