SPOILER ALERT! Were you surprised when Daenerys went Mad Queen in Season 8, Episode 5 of Game of Thrones? Were you thinking to yourself, “whoa, I knew she was tough, but I didn’t know she felt like that?”
In the same way Daenerys threw us all for a loop—sometimes (though hopefully with no fire involved) our donors surprise us, too. In fact, it’s common for us to make assumptions about what our base of supporters wants to hear without stopping to unpack the diverging values and motivations that are active within it.
But unlike our favorite GoT characters, there’s a lot more we can be doing to think through who our donors really are—inside and out—and how best we can anticipate their needs to communicate with them effectively.
I often see organizations sending out fundraising communications without having thought about segmentation. Or maybe they’ve thought about segmentation but don’t quite know how to go about it. Not being surprised by your donors, and successfully expanding your base, means having a refined understanding of who your donors are and sending them the right outreach at the right times.
How do we do this? By developing donor personas.
What are donor personas?
Donor personas are archetypal representations of your current and potential donors.
They’re based on real data about who your donors are, giving a human face to a segment of your community. Some of what’s included in a persona will apply to all of them (everyone in your “Over 60” demographic will be over 60 years old), while other aspects of the persona will be true for many of them but not all (for example, not all these individuals have kids and grandkids).
The important thing is to provide enough information that a persona feels real, relatable, and specific, while remaining broad enough to roughly apply to everyone in the group.
Why use donor personas?
Data is useful, but it can also lead to decision paralysis. How do you know what voice to use, what assumptions to make, and what avenues to use to reach each constituency? Personas provide a brief and easily digestible profile for large groups of donors, simplifying data into a few common factors.
They also make groups feel real—while it’s hard to think about the interests and preferences of a segment of your donors in the abstract, it’s reasonable to think about the interests and preferences of Maureen, a weekly volunteer who’s planning for retirement, loves her grandkids, and doesn’t use social media.
How many donor personas should I create?
This all depends on your organization’s size and resources. Each persona takes time to create, and each persona leads to an ongoing outreach strategy that’s unique from all the other personas. Typically, a mid- to large-sized organization can benefit from three to five personas.
An organization like a public university with a large, diverse constituency may need more, and an organization like a professional society that works with a more narrowly defined community may need fewer. The important thing is that they’re useful to you, helping you create personalized messages for each segment.
How do I create donor personas?
You need data to build a persona. And it’s usually prudent to start with your existing donors. Your CRM can help you start compiling information about your donors, especially when it comes to demographics, capacity, and other things you’re already tracking. Look for groupings and commonalities in the data to get an idea of where to start.
Once you have some ideas, it’s time to get more personal. While you can certainly use electronic surveys to gather information about your existing donors, you can always get more nuance through one-on-one interviews. They help you dive deep into the experiences of your donors to create a persona—and they’re a great cultivation activity! We typically recommend interviewing four to five individuals per prospective segment.
Once you have this data, you can start building personas (like the major donor Maureen whom we mentioned earlier, below) by grouping your interviewees into categories that make sense based on your goals.
You might choose to segment by supporter types like monthly recurring donors, one-time donors, major gift donors, and subscribers-only; or you could go by age, affiliation, or something specific to your organization. As you build out your personas, you’ll learn more about each segment’s motivations, behaviors, and preferences. We’ll dig into this further in a future article!
Donor personas done. Now what?
Congratulations! You now have a valuable tool for almost any fundraising communications task you can think of. Whether you’re working to launch a campaign, increase annual giving, engage alumni, boost volunteering, or simply trying to reach your donors in more compelling ways, your personas will be a resource in tailoring your outreach efforts.
Your monthly email newsletter is a good place to test your personas. Create different newsletter content for each persona and see how many more clicks you receive. You can also begin sending personalized messages to donor segments—for instance, one-time donors—to see if your updated messaging can move them towards greater engagement.
Or try A/B testing messages, using the same strategy you’ve been using for half of the audience and the new messaging strategy with the other half; then watch how the messaging plays out over a six-month period.
We would love to hear how you’re using donor personas in your work. Done right, they can help you form a more nuanced understanding of your donor population, which in turn helps you share your message, increase awareness, and boost donor dollars.
If you have a story about how using personas has helped your organization or if you just want to know more about our process—or chat about GoT—reach out to me directly or comment below!