GUIDE: Using Donor Personas to Maximize Your Nonprofit Fundraising

October 3, 2018  |  EveryAction Team

It’s no secret that storytelling in the digital age is essential for nonprofits, but the efficacy of stories depends largely on how clearly and strategically they’re communicated to each unique segment of your audience, also sometimes known as a persona.

Personas are regularly used in sales and marketing to identify, personify, and strategically message to different buyer archetypes. And the process of building these personas can get very detailed.

Using this process to identify different types of donors in your universe is extremely useful in guiding your efforts to segment your list and fine-tune the messaging that you use for each group. Sending personalized communications, geared toward supporters' interests and preferences is much more effective than broad mass communication, and personas are the tool used to identify exactly who messages should be personalized for. 

Read ahead for a detailed explanation of 9 common personas in the nonprofit development world, and download this excel template to start building your own!

If you're looking for a specific type of donor, click on their persona name to jump directly to that section.

1. Oscar One-Off Donor
2. Susan Sustainer
3. Marta Major Gifts
4. Vince Volunteer
5. Malik Millennial + Nellie Newbie
6. Eddie Engager + Emma Event Attendee
7. Luna Lapsed Donor

Oscar One-Off Donor

Oscar the one-off, or occasional donor gives what he can, when he can. The key to communicating effectively with Oscar is staying on his radar and putting him on the road to becoming a sustaining giver.

One way to do this is to offer smart, purposeful secondary asks when and where Oscar is most likely to engage with them.

Your donor management platform should be able to show you the “journey” that Oscar took before his last donation. Did he engage with a recent fundraising email? Click an online ad? Answer a call to donate on social media?

Use your software’s data and analytics to understand how your donors arrive at their decisions to donate—that way, you can strategically encourage additional gifts by putting “signs” along that journey and make giving convenient.

Also worth considering: your software should provide easily-browsed and highly-sortable donation history for each contact. With that information, you can then make a tailored ask to turn that occasional gift into a monthly donation.

Whether it was $5 during your last campaign or $100 on #GivingTuesday, run a contribution report to get the details on Oscar’s last donation and ask for a similar amount, that way you don’t spook a low-dollar donor by asking for too much, or lose out on a higher-dollar donation because you asked for too little.

Susan Sustainer

Susan the sustaining donor believes in your nonprofit’s mission and she gives regular, recurring gifts to help support it all year long.

You can show Susan that the feeling is mutual by tracking her interests and sharing stories that demonstrate how her support moves your work forward.

Your donor database should track and report on how supporters interact with all of the channels in a campaign: email opens, social media engagement, web page visits, etc.

Whether your mission is issue-specific or broader in scope, use this data to determine the type of content Susan is most likely to read, click on, or otherwise engage with.

From there, tailor the messaging in your next email or even use dynamic content fields that adapt to whomever is reading, ensuring the right message and ask are displayed.

For example, dynamic fields could allow you to display a picture of the Badlands to readers in South Dakota, while readers in Arizona see the Red Rocks of Sedona.

As with Oscar, you should be strategic in where and how you ask Susan for secondary gifts outside of her regular contributions.

Create an email series just for sustainers like Susan to share your successes and thank her for the part she plays in each one. This could be a quarterly progress report email series, or one that provides updates about a specific campaign. Either way, the purpose of these emails is to let Susan know what she’s investing in and why she should stay committed.

Speaking of investment, don’t depend on Susan to remember to update her new, expired, or lost credit card information with your organization.

These days, we pay for a lot using automatic charges or withdrawals and it’s tough to keep track of each site that needs to be notified when your card information changes.

Donor software with credit card updater integration allows you to send automatic messages to folks like Susan so that you’re staying on top of the issue without having to chase down donors—not to mention, it keeps those sustaining gifts coming in and saves you a ton of time.

Another option: don’t be limited to plastic! Many organizations offer regular direct bank account withdrawals, or Electronic Fund Transfers, in lieu of recurring credit card charges—ideally, your donation processing software will give you options.

Marta Major Gifts

If there’s one thing you need to know about Marta the Major Gift donor, it’s her prospect score. Once you’ve gotten the 411 from your prospecting efforts, your donor management platform should be able to help you use that information more strategically.

A donor management tool should allow you to upload prospect scores for major donors like Marta so they’re always at-hand when you’re preparing to reach out.

Sometimes, it’s not enough to have a list of major donors or prospects. The ability to sort major donor reports by score helps your development team refine and prioritize its outreach strategy, allowing for an even more personal touch with these important contacts.

Whether it’s an intimate gathering or a blowout affair, your donor management software is also an important tool you can use when planning a fundraising soiree for Marta and her fellow major donors.

A robust event management functionality should be highly-customizable, and make saying, “I’ll be there!” as easy as possible for your invitees.

Organizing an event for the jet-setting type? Invitations from your tool should be mobile-responsive and allow for one-click RSVP right from the body of the email.

Hosting a private meet-up before the rest of the party kicks off? Optimized forms can allow you to include smart fields for the select few on your pre-party invite list.

From there, set up automatic reminder and follow-up messages where you can solicit event feedback, send a contribution receipt, or just send a tailored thank-you.

Vince Volunteer

Vince the noble volunteer loves to offer his service and time to your cause.

Donor management software can help you make the right ask. Reward his volunteerism by offering Vince the opportunities that work best for him.

Use your donor software data to research Vince’s engagement history and determine what types of calls-to-action he’s answered in the past and try to recruit him for similar things in the future.

For example, if you notice he’s an enthusiastic door-knocker on canvassing days but doesn’t even open your phone banking sign up emails, keep those habits in mind for future volunteer asks.

Make it easy for Vince to self-identify his preferences right in the event sign up form with choices like phone banking, data entry, canvassing, op-ed contributions, etc.

You can also keep track of volunteer availability so that your invitations match your volunteers’ schedules—that means sending College Carlos a breakfast event invite because you know his classes start late this semester, or recruiting Nina Nine-to-Five for weekend canvassing since she’s off on Saturday and Sunday.

And don’t forget to keep location and travel considerations in mind when sending out calls for volunteers! A great donor software feature allows you to identify potential event recruits based on their proximity to the event location.

Pro tip: run a report that includes volunteers within 10 miles of the event zip code and then expand to 25, 50, or 100 miles until you’ve gotten enough sign ups.

Malik Millennial & Nellie Newbie

Whether you’re talking to Nellie Newbie, someone totally unfamiliar with your organization, or Malik Millennial, who’s new to charitable giving in general, donor software can help you make the right first impression.

Start out by enlisting your tool’s social listening capabilities to determine where Nellie and Malik go to learn and talk about your issue.

Determine which platforms these conversations are happening on, research relevant hashtags or groups, and check out popular Google searches related to your mission.

Once you’ve done this, you can then organize your outreach campaign plan, prioritize your resource allocation, and set smarter goals. (Need a template for your next campaign? Look no further.)

From there, take advantage of your platform’s A/B email testing and figure out how to best speak to both Malik and Nellie.

Choose different images or graphics, try out different subject lines and button colors, even sprinkle in emojis here and there—the possibilities are endless. Ultimately, the aim is to have a new, engaged audience to share stories with and activate to give and/or advocate for your cause.

Eddie Engager + Emma Event Attendee

You can count on Eddie the engager to help amplify your message: shares, retweets, petitions—you name it, Eddie is there. The same can be said for Emma the event regular, who never misses an in-person opportunity to support your cause.

But wouldn’t it be nice to also count on their monetary support?

A great way to bridge that gap is by taking immediate advantage of Eddie’s and Emma’s actions and striking while the engagement iron is hot.

One-click email donation is a key functionality of donor software that can achieve this. Sending Emma a reminder before or a follow up message after a community event? Make it easy for her to give exactly when she’s most excited about being a supporter by including a one-click donation opportunity.

Dynamic list-building can also help you target supporters like Eddie. Run a donor report that captures everyone who has engaged or taken X, Y, or Z actions but has never donated.

From there, craft specific messaging that speaks to those supporters, celebrates their place in your community, and encourages them to take the next step—becoming donors.

Word to the wise: Facebook and Google offer nonprofits free ad grants and this list of engagers is prime for retargeting if you’re interesting in taking advantage of those opportunities.

Luna Lapsed Donor

Finally, there’s Luna, the lapsed donor. She supported you at one time but hasn’t shown any interest in doing so recently.

Luna needs some extra nurturing to return to active status and your donor management software offers the most efficient means of winning her back.

Ahead of any major campaigns or year-end fundraising pushes, take stock of all your Lunas by running LYBUNT, SYBUNT, and MYBUNT reports. These identify those donors that gave/give Last Year, Some Years, or Most Years, but unfortunately not this year. These reports are very common and should be easy to run.

Once you’ve done so, the next step is to set up that all-important reengagement email series with tailored messaging around reigniting Luna’s enthusiasm for your cause. Highlight the specific aims of your latest campaign or a big win you achieved this year in order to remind her of why she invested in your organization in the first place.

If you’ve done all this and Luna is still giving you the cold shoulder, your donor software can also help you make a clean break.

Run a report to identify which email recipients have just plain stopped opening your messages and decide once and for all to purge them from your list.

True story: while it may make you cringe to think of cutting your list in any way, keeping those “dead” addresses and continuing to email them may actually be hurting your ability to reach those people that do want to hear from you.

It’s called email deliverability, and the gist of it is this: the more people that mark your messages as spam or consistently delete them, the higher the probability that email providers like Google will deliver your messages to junk folders. In the end, you’re much better off removing inactive addresses from your list than missing out on chances to talk to everyone else.

You can put this information to work now by creating donor personas for your organization with this Nonprofit Donor Persona Template, which includes nine customizable template pages with full profiles and a sample to get you started.