Do you know who you’re talking to when you send out an email blast or post on social media? Do you know who you’d like to land on your new web page for an upcoming campaign? Who is your target audience?

If you don’t know, it’s time to buckle down and find out.

Knowing your audience is key to driving engagement. If you don’t really know who it is that you’re hoping to reach through any given marketing effort, success becomes much more of a gamble. When you clearly define your nonprofit’s target audience, you take a lot of the guessing out of your marketing plan. Your target audiences determine what you say, how you say it and where you say it.

Start By Identifying Your Goals

What are your nonprofit’s most important goals? Your goals will help you prioritize and focus on the people that matter most to your nonprofit right now. Those people most likely to complete those goals are your target audience.

Perhaps your most important goal is increasing donations, or it could be more clients in your newest program, or more volunteers and event attendees.

Goals are going to vary from organization to organization. Your organizational goals may even change over time. That’s okay. Have three goals that are the top priority for your nonprofit? Have one goal that involves a few different groups of people? Both are fine.

You can have two or even three target audiences — you just don’t want or need twelve of them. The more specific you can be, the more effective your communications will be. And twelve different target audiences is a recipe for unclear priorities and muddy results.

So Who Is Your Target Audience?

It’s impossible for me to tell you who you should be targeting as your top audience—every nonprofit is different. But, as long as you align your target audience with your most important goals and who those goals require action from, you should be able to focus on the right people.

To you, that may mean donors, or clients, or volunteers, or advocates, or event attendees, or corporate partners… the list goes on.

For example, an organization that runs an after-school program for elementary school students might have the following target audiences and connected goals:

  1. Target local college students to grow our pool of after-school volunteers
  2. Target grandparents of elementary-school-age children in the community to expand our donor base
  3. Target elementary school administrators to increase participation in our after-school programs

To strategically and effectively use these target audiences moving forward, you need to make them real. You need to get inside the head of someone from each of these groups. This is where target audience personas come in.

Create target audience personas

A target audience persona is a fictional representation of a typical member of your target audience, rooted in behavioral data and knowledge that you’ve gained from getting to know supporters personally. Typically, the persona will include:

  • Demographics and background
  • Preferred marketing channels and methods of communication
  • Their goals
  • Their challenges
  • Your organization’s role in achieving its goals and overcoming any challenges

For example, your target audience of donors may tell you that your typical donors are married women with disposable income between the ages of 50 and 70. A persona will tell you that these women are the matriarchs of their families, looking to build and pass down a legacy of action and generosity within their families.

Audience personas give this large group of folks a face and a name. They can help you refine your marketing strategy and your approach to everything from the blog content you write to the campaigns you run, and so much more. Get started with our sample persona and checklist.

Download Our Target Audience Persona Checklist

Creating target audience personas is a crucial step in your nonprofit marketing. Get started with our full checklist of questions for your target audience persona development.

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Interested in building a donor persona? We have extra tips and a template for you.

Engaging Your Target Audience

Once you know who your target audience is and have created a target audience persona around it, engaging that audience becomes much simpler. Customize your marketing plan around the audience that you’ve identified and use one of the personas in every single communication that you send or create.

That includes the marketing channels that you use. And it includes using language and calls to action likely to resonate with your audience. You wouldn’t want to focus on Twitter posts to drive advocacy efforts if your people aren’t there to get the message.

Using your target audience personas, you can speak directly to your desired audience through each and every marketing plan that you create.

Who is your target audience? Has your nonprofit spent time specifying the people you’re trying to reach? What tactics did you use to determine which groups were most important? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Originally published on 12/9/15 by Britt Vogel. Updated with new information and tips on 3/2/22.