READ TIME: 4 minutes

How Do I Build A Donor Persona?

By Franny Lown
Building donor personas is a necessary but often overlooked step in the quest to identify and interact with your audience. Looking to develop a monthly giving campaign? Boost your social media presence? Spread your mission? Start with the folks that make your work possible: your supporters! 

What is a Donor Persona?

A donor persona is a fictitious representation of your ideal donor. They’re based on real data about donor demographics and behavior, including insights into their personal history, inspirations, and concerns.   This can be a combination of the people that support you in different ways, including your fundraisers, volunteers, members and event participants. So what turns previously anonymous, casual supporter into a donor? Let’s find out.  

Why Should My Organization Do This?

Identifying your donor persona(s) helps your organization determine where to focus your time and efforts to improve the marketing and communications strategy.  Do you really know who your donors are? Do you know what inspires them to give? Their values or ideals? Their age, education level, employment status, or occupation? Defining these characteristics can guide interactions with your supporters and attract like-minded individuals in the future.  Like your organization, your donors are unique! Highlighting their motivations for giving along with what sets them apart improves future communication. It’s also worth understanding how they’d like to hear from you and how often.   Instead of pitching products, nonprofit organizations sell stories about the impact of their services. It only makes sense to weave the stories of your donors into your strategy! 

Where Do I Begin?

Start by characterizing your donor base. There are a few ways to begin organizing: geographic, demographic, psychographic (attitudes & values) and behavioral. The importance of these different characteristics will become apparent as you get into the thick of it. Let’s tackle this step-by-step.  

STEP 1: Define Your Donors

What kind of donors are among your organization’s portfolio? (Giving capacity will vary across organizations) 
  • Major
  • Mid-level
  • Monthly
  • Small
Figure out where you receive the highest and lowest percentage of donations. This exercise helps you understand your donor portfolio and where you might exert more effort. Do the contributions of all your smaller donors surpass the revenue of your major ones? Consider why this makes a difference and how you can better connect with key audiences where opportunity for funding is ripe.

STEP 2: Define Demographics

If you’re feeling unsure about what your donors really look like, this is a great place to begin. The information is easy to collect, and you can quickly see a mock-up of who they are.  Who are your donors? Consider some of these characteristics: 
  • Geography – neighborhoods, cities, states, regions, countries 
  • Gender 
  • Age 
  • Income 
  • Marital status 
  • Education 
  • Religion 
  • Occupation 
  • Housing-rent or own 
  • Military service 
  • Ethnicity 
  • Urban/suburban/rural 
  • Children, number of children 
TRY THIS EXERCISE! Craft a list of the top five demographics critical to your organization. Consider why these demographics matter to your organization. How do they help set you apart? 

STEP 3: Understand Your Donor’s Values and Beliefs

The key to understanding your donors values and beliefs is to ask them directly! Take the time to interview 3-5 donors, ideally of diverse backgrounds/demographic groups. This will help you connect with existing donors, hear feedback, and develop a well-rounded persona. Make a point to be clear that this is for your own research, and you’re not asking for money here.   Make it easy for your donors to participate. Work with their schedule. Would they prefer a quick phone call, video chat, or to meet in person? Whatever the case may be, make sure the ball is in their court here. You may also consider offering an incentive to thank donors for participating. A simple gift card or discount on your next event can go a long way.  As you prepare for interviews, consider some of these questions: 
  • What are their values or ideals? What matters most to them? 
  • What do they like to do for fun? Are they active? 
  • How do they view the world and your organization’s role in it? 
  • What problem does your organization address? How do your supporters feel about it? 
  • What opinions do your supporters have of your organization’s impact?  
  • What do they believe differentiates your organization from others?  
  • What is the value of the impact they feel you bring to the communities you serve? 

STEP 4: Where Do Your Donors Find Information They Trust?

Learning about your donor’s research preferences will help your organization determine content strategy. You don’t have to ask ALL of these questions, but these suggestions will help get you on your way.  
  • Where do your donors go to find information? Online or through trusted friends, neighbors, and relatives? 
  • Do they use social media? If so, what channels?  
  • How did they prefer to consume information from your organization? Email, social, website, direct mail, text, phone call, etc.  
  • What other organizations do your donors support? How do they go about finding these organizations? 
  • Do they consider you an expert in your area of focus?  
  • When your supporter gives time, money or energy toward your information, what fears are they alleviating?  
  • What are their most common objections to supporting an organization?  

STEP 5: Build Your Persona!

The point of building donor personas isn’t to make as many as possible. Do your best to keep personas to a minimum (2-4 is the sweet spot) so that they are well-rounded, and you can interact with them properly.  donor persona
  • Give your personas an identity! Assign a name or adjective to each to bring them to life, like Social Justice Jeremy or Major Donor Mary. You can even add a stock photo to bring the persona to life.
  • Work together with your team. Present your findings to each other, share your ideas and feedback about what your donor personas can teach you about your organization.  
  • Get to work. Take what you learn from your donor personas and use it to benefit the whole of your organization! 

    Looking to develop your donor personas to improve or implement a monthly giving program? Sign up for CauseMic Academy to learn to launch or reboot your monthly giving program in 90 days!