By Ally Orlando, Senior Copywriter at DonorPerfect

7 Steps to Build Donor Personas for More Effective Fundraising

As a fundraiser, you’re probably familiar with the power of personalization in your fundraising efforts. However, the process of researching and tailoring communications to every individual on your mailing list can be overwhelming. Regardless of size or budget, growing nonprofits often share one common secret: donor personas. These fictional profiles of your ideal constituents are based on real data and can revolutionize your fundraising strategy.

Here are seven steps your nonprofit can take to build donor personas and incorporate them into your fundraising approach.

1) Identify your most valuable donor segments

To begin, focus on meaningful groups of donors within your organization. Pinpoint those who give most frequently or generously, and consider who you want to engage with more often. Involve your team in discussions about your fundraising goals and identify the groups you actively seek to grow.

For instance, creating a persona for millennial donors who give often can help you understand their motivations and increase online donations by 25% in the next five years.

Sample donor segments:

  • Donors who gave last year, but not this year (LYBUNT)
  • Donors who gave last year, and more this year (Upgrades)
  • Donors who gave two or more gifts in the last three years (Retained)
  • Donors who gave in each of the last three years, and gave more each time (Repeat upgrades)
  • Donors who gave to your Giving Tuesday campaign
  • Donors who make large, tax-deductible donations in December
  • Donors who specifically give on December 31st
  • Donors who are part of your monthly giving program
  • Volunteers who also donate

2) Enhance your donor data with lifestyle details

To develop robust personas, your organization can utilize fundraising tools that enrich your existing donor data with lifestyle information. This information typically goes beyond your standard reports and speaks to donors’ predicted giving capacity based on their lifestyle details. If you don’t have fundraising tools that provide this data, try speaking with donors in person or over the phone, or sending out surveys, to collect details and identify trends.

Sample lifestyle details:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Career industry
  • Political affiliation
  • Household income
  • Preferred contact method

Comparing a donor’s predicted giving capacity against the donor segment they belong to can answer questions such as:

  • What percentage of donors who repeatedly upgrade their gift are highly educated?
  • What percentage of last year’s Giving Tuesday donors were women?
  • What percentage of donors who upgraded their gift last year are older than 65?
  • What percentage of your total donors belong to Generation X or Y?

If your nonprofit has the budget or bandwidth to employ prospect research tools, you can gain information from specific data points such as voter registrations, Federal Election Commission political giving, credit bureaus, mortgage databases, the U.S. census, and the National Change of Address (NCOA) database, in addition to social engagement scoring.

3) Confirm your findings with interviews and surveys

Your donors know themselves, so it’s essential to validate the research you’ve gathered with them directly. Conduct interviews or send out surveys to ensure your information aligns with their experiences. Simple survey questions can be included on your online donation forms, or at the end of your emails, and you can also gather feedback from your team to identify trends that resonate with your donors.

4) Identify segments based on your fundraising goals

For each fundraising goal, analyze individual giving trends among the donor segments you’ve identified. Determine which group is most likely to help you achieve each specific goal, and ensure your estimations are backed by data found in your CRM or donor feedback. Once identified, use your research tool to craft a fictional person with a name, photo, and characteristics representing that donor group.

5) Create a fictional identity, complete with characteristics

Based on your data, immerse yourself in the factors contributing to each persona’s philanthropy. Consider their age, political party, philanthropic lineage, nonprofit affiliations, financial situation, and communication preferences. To uncover your donors’ preferred communication methods preferred by your donors, you can utilize prospect research tools or use demographic information to make educated estimates.

Things to remember:

  • Personas should be a person you can visualize.
  • Personas are based on data, not stereotypes.
  • Personas do not assume that all people are the same.
  • Personas help you sharpen your focus on a specific individual.

Things to consider:

  • How would this person view your organization within the context of their life?
  • What are their motivations to support your organization?
  • What do they want to accomplish in their personal and professional lives?
  • What types of media and activities do they engage with?

6) Plan donor engagement around your personas

Different personas require distinct messaging, and that’s precisely why you’ve created them. Based on your research and persona profiles, tailor your fundraising operations to align with each persona’s preferences and interests. This includes selecting the appropriate social media platforms for outreach.

Sample considerations:

  • Which persona is an ideal candidate for your Giving Tuesday campaign?
  • Which persona would respond best to a mobile-friendly email with an online donation form link?
  • What impact stories will resonate with each persona?
  • Which event invitations will pique their interest?

7) Prioritize donor communication based on persona

Determine how your personas will influence your communication workflow and prioritize interactions accordingly. Major donors might receive personalized phone calls and Zoom chats, while new donors could be offered facility tours and volunteer opportunities.

Sample considerations:

  • How will you communicate with major donors, and who will handle these interactions?
  • What engagement opportunities will you offer to new donors?
  • Which staff members will reach out to donors, such as the Executive Director or Development Director?
  • Are there personas that respond well to text messages?

Building donor personas may seem labor-intensive, but it significantly increases your chances of capturing and maintaining your donors’ attention. By fostering genuine connections with each donor segment, your nonprofit can inspire more profound engagement and achieve greater impact together. And with the aid of a constituent relationship management system and fundraising tools, your organization can embrace donor personas as a powerful fundraising strategy. Personalization will no longer be an elusive goal but a reality that drives your nonprofit’s success.