Defining Donor Personas is a Fundraising Best Practice

Building a donor focused approach is one of three keys to successful fundraising (see here for the other two). Donor focused means listening and acting on donor’s needs, desires, likes, dislikes, expectations, behaviors, and motivations. The donor is a customer of your organization, and in order for a donor to engage (i.e. exchange time, money, or knowledge in return for the social equity or good you do through your mission), the donor needs to understand “what’s in it for them.” In order to show donors “what’s in it for them,” it is critical to understand what your donors value, who they are, and what motivates them.

What is a donor persona?

A donor persona is a definition of a single donor but is representative of a group of your donors that have similar characteristics, qualities, and attributes.

A donor persona defines the characteristics, likes and dislikes, needs, expectations, desires, motivations, demographics, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of a segmented group of donors. Donor personas are always based on real people and real donors that engage with your organization.

>> A donor persona is a clear and concise definition of a “target” donor.

Why are donor personas important?

1. Learn about your donors

Do you know your donors?

If you are a development or fundraising professional, donors (both existing and prospective) are your target audience. They are your focus from both a marketing and fundraising perspective. As a result, defining donor personas helps you learn more about your donors.

The process of defining donor personas gives you an opportunity to study your target audience. Studying and learning about your donors will help you and your organization become more donor-focused.

2. Inform your fundraising strategies

If you know what a donor likes, dislikes, or expects, you can develop better strategies to meet those needs.

Instead of guessing or assuming which strategies might work, you can make clear decisions based on factual representations of your donors.

Donor personas can both inform and potentially illuminate ways to engage, interact, and provide service to your donors.

3. Segment your donors

Not every donor wants to engage with your organization in the same format. Not every donor wants to give in the same format either.

Donors are people. The one thing we know about people is that we are all different. As a result, mass marketing and mass fundraising tactics aren’t as effective as intentional and targeted marketing and fundraising tactics.

Donor personas give you the ability to segment your donors into groups based on their differentiating qualities.

How to define donor personas?

Define each persona by answering the following list of questions.

I recommend creating a matrix to define each persona. Each column will be a persona type (i.e. Donor A, Donor B, Donor C, or some identifying name that is meaningful to you) and each row will answer the questions outlined below.

  • What characteristics define this persona? How can we identify this persona (attributes, type of donor, demographics)?
  • What are this persona’s goals, passions, and or interests?
  • What does this persona value?
  • Where and how does this persona get information and how does this persona network or socialize?
  • What are the persona’s preferred methods of communication?
  • What is this persona’s purpose for engaging our organization?
  • How does the persona engage with our organization?
  • What is this persona’s capacity to support our cause?

Donor personas aren’t a static definition. The matrix of donor personas should be part of a “living” definition.

Donors change, needs change, and the way in which you conduct fundraising, the strategies you use, and the tools you use will change. Therefore, your donor persona definitions will change and evolve.

Making adjustments to your donor personas will help your organization adapt fundraising strategies so you can remain current and relevant to your donors.

Getting started with best practice research

I read an article titled “75% of Young Donors Turned Off by Out-of-Date Web Sites.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy published it. Among other great points made by this article, it reminded me of a simple way to get started with donor personas.

There is a wealth of information and research available to help you develop accurate and useful donor personas.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with donor personas. There is an abundance of information on donor characteristics, likes, dislikes and expectations. Most of this information is free and available online.

The article I referenced is a perfect example. It describes key characteristics of “young donors.” This article provides great insight into, what could be, a core donor persona for your organization: Millennials.

While it is important to customize your personas based on your actual donors, you can build a solid foundation of information that is rooted in fact, proof, and evidence from the learning, research, and exploration of others in the fundraising profession. “The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generations Y, X, Baby Boomers, and Matures” by Blackbaud is another great place to start.

Understand your donors

In order, to “meet your donors at their level” you must understand what motivates them and what interests them. By defining a donor persona, you can develop fundraising strategies and activities that match your donors’ unique needs.

Defining donor personas is an intentional and strategic process that can help your organization provide donors the experience they expect. Moving from a mass marketing and mass fundraising approaches to a targeted approach using donor personas is a way to improve donor engagement and become a donor-focused organization.