We are huge fans of donor personas. We’ve seen the effect they can have on donor communications and the fundraising boost that comes from getting to know your donors better. Many organizations find personas helpful in improving their overall donor flow, including things like making better calls to action, creating content that engages donors and that reaches them through the right channels.

But let’s take a step back and look more closely at the purpose and benefits.

What Are Donor Personas?

A donor persona is a target audience persona that represents your ideal donor. Good donor personas act as a fictional representation of a donor that you can visualize and speak to through all of your fundraising communications. 

It narrows down a target audience of “All Donors” to one specific person with a face, name, goals and challenges. Ideally, this persona is based on behavioral data and knowledge that you’ve gained from getting to know your supporters on a personal level.

Benefits of the persona

One person with a face, name, background, goals and challenges is much easier to consider and speak to than a vague list of data points or range of people that you may or may not have met in passing or spoken to briefly on the phone. The benefit of knowing exactly who you’re talking to through all of your donor communications is immeasurable.

Personas give you an opportunity to help someone overcome challenges and achieve goals in regards to your nonprofit. You can learn to speak their language and share the content that inspires them to give.

Creating a Donor Persona

Some organizations may have a need for multiple donor personas, for example a major gifts donor and a monthly recurring donor. I’d recommend focusing on one donor to start with and building out more personas should you have the need for them later. Simpler is always best to start!

There are four steps to creating your organization’s perfect donor persona.

Use current data to configure your ideal donor

The first step to creating a donor persona is to determine the qualities that you look for in an ideal donor. Some analysis can help you identify themes among donors and pinpoint ideal qualities.

  • What do your donors have in common?
  • How did they find you? Through your Board? Social media? Internet search?
  • What motivated them to give?
  • How often do they give? Annually? Monthly?
  • How much do they give? Large annual amounts or more frequent smaller amounts?
  • What marketing channels are most engaging for them?
  • How else do they connect with you? Events, volunteering or newsletter subscribers?

Interview donors

Now that you have a working list of qualities that your most trusty donors share, you can talk to a few current donors who have those qualities to learn more about them and check your assumptions.

Find tips on conducting donor interviews for the purpose of developing donor personas, including who to talk to and what to ask them.

Identify patterns

Now that you have a good deal of information about your ideal donors, it’s time to piece it all together and identify patterns and similarities across your data set. What details keep popping up? Did multiple donors answer the same questions in a similar way?

It’s these notes that will make up your donor persona and help dictate how you communicate with donors moving forward.

Build out the persona

And now—the fun part. In order to get your donor persona in working order as quickly and painlessly as possible, start with the critical details and add more secondary details down the road. As you continue to get to know your donors and collect more information about them, you can update and add to your persona.

But as with most things, it helps to keep it simple to start. With that in mind, we’d recommend including the following for your persona:

  • A name that you can use to reference the persona with your team and to yourself
  • Helpful background information or demographics (but please skip the stereotypes)
  • Donation details, including gift size and frequency
  • Notes on what motivates and inspires them

That’s it! Save everything else that you’ve learned to continue building out the persona as you use it, adding upon this base with the details that you find most helpful.

Get the Donor Persona Template

Download our donor persona template to build a persona of your own quickly and easily, plus see our recommendations for expanding upon your persona over time.

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Using Your New Persona

The most important thing about your new donor persona is that you actually use it. It’s a waste to see an organization pour hours of time and resources into creating a robust donor persona only to let the file get buried deep in your file system and rarely used in regular communications.

That may mean different things for different people and teams. But I’ve personally found the following to be helpful.

  • Share your new donor persona across the marketing, fundraising and any other staff who could have a use for it
  • Link to it within internal documentation and resources wherever it could prove useful, like editorial calendars or fundraising strategies
  • Reference it regularly when discussing marketing or communications targeted at donors or potential donors
  • Continually update your persona as you learn new things about your donors or conduct additional rounds of donor interviews

That last point is crucial. If you let your persona get stale, people (yourself included!) will eventually stop using it.

Donor personas are extremely helpful when communicating with donors through your nonprofit’s marketing, communications and fundraising efforts, but they can look pretty different from one organization to the next. Pinpointing ideal donor qualities, getting to know the current donors who embody those qualities and mapping out the one person that can represent your donor audience will deepen your relationships with current, past and future donors. And through that, you can win new and continued support.

Have you created a donor persona? What details does it include? Any tips on remembering to actually use it? Let’s group up in the comments below.