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An Intro to Donor Personas

An Intro to Donor Personas

What are donor personas and how do they help with fundraising? The more you know about your supporters, the easier it is to ask them to give and craft a better nonprofit marketing strategy.

Do you know your donors? They might not be who you think they are. A recent study of donor retention statistics shows that just 12% of an organization’s donor base contributes  88% of dollars raised. It might be time to get better acquainted with your donors, and this article will help you get started.


When it comes to fundraising, sometimes more effort can go into what has to be done rather than who will contribute the funding. Prospect research is the main way to identify donors, and an effective way to approach this is by creating donor profiles, also known as donor personas.


Why donor profiles (or personas) are so important


If there’s one characteristic your supporters all share, it’s that they’re a diverse bunch of people. When your support base is large enough, you’ll see that there’s a wide range of identifying traits beyond the obvious categories of gender, age, and profession.

But as you delve deeper into the data about your supporters, you will see that behavior is the determining factor for identifying categories. When you identify these groups, you’re ready to profile them.


Donor profiles might sound scientific and complicated, but they’re really not. Profiles are nothing more than descriptions of each group’s preferences and habits that help you understand a segment of your donors.


Marketers use something similar to write a message that speaks to thousands of people and makes each one feel as though it were written just for them.


Storytelling is at the heart of donor profiles


Think about one of your favorite books or movies. Unless it’s some experimental indie concoction, the plot likely has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The author has also likely ensured you stay entertained throughout the story by providing you with only experience the most interesting things about the protagonist and particular events surrounding that central character.

That’s how you want to approach creating donor profiles.


Select a group that shares a specific giving pattern to be the protagonist in this analogy. Let’s say you discover that female supporters between the ages of 40 to 55 are your most generous and frequent donors. Find out as much as you can about this group, your “protagonist.” Some nonprofit software makes this easy, while others might require advanced learning. With the right software, you’ll have the data at your fingertips. What do these women do for a living? Where do they reside? Do they have children? What are their hobbies? What sort of education do they have?


In short, What’s their story?


Creating a profile


As you study this group of women, you’ll discover a collection of commonalities. When this happens, you’ve uncovered the basis of their profile. In this case, it might be:

  • They are women with an average age of 47
  • They hold executive positions at work
  • They’re college graduates, and most have a master’s degree
  • They have no children
  • They don’t have time to volunteer, so they make donations instead

It doesn’t take an expert in marketing or psychology to see that this particular group of supporters might respond to a message that’s crafted to resonate with shared behaviors.


This profile has another added benefit: it will help you find more people just like the donors in your database.


From profiles to personas


Up to this point, we’ve been looking at your donor base as groups of people who share the same behaviors. Now that those groups have been defined, the final step is to narrow the focus and distill each group into a single person, or persona.


A donor persona is a type of avatar that sums up a profile group as a single person. It would include information like demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals and be written like a short biography that tells you who this person is.


Many NPOs give their donor personas a real name, a face, and a back story. Whenever you are writing a marketing message, making an ask, or doing any sort of fundraising, you imagine that you are writing it for the avatar you’ve created as though he or she were a real person (because they are). This humanizes your message, deepens your communication, and allows you to make the right kind of ask at the right time.


Say hello to your persona, Lisa.


So let’s say “Lisa” represents the profile group we defined above, and consider what her story might be. Perhaps it goes something like this:


Lisa is 47 years old. She has a master’s degree in business administration and works at a Fortune 500 company as a regional vice president. Her office is about 2 miles from your organization. Lisa doesn’t have any children, and her executive job keeps her very busy. That’s why she’s never made it to any of your volunteer events. Lisa makes a donation every year during your annual drive. She also makes monthly donations through her company’s giving program.


Lisa is not a real person, but at this point, she might as well be. Members of your organization now have a short story of easy-to-remember attributes, needs and priorities. Lisa represents a group of people who behave a specific way – a way that’s beneficial to your organization. When anyone in your organization communicates to this profile group, they just need to craft a personal message to Lisa.


Donor profile and persona crafting is changing the fundraising game for the better. In this exciting age of technology, nonprofits increasingly can’t afford to not invest in software that revolutionizes the fundraising process.


New fundraising software gives you access to detailed donor information. It’s this insight that makes creating donor profiles possible.