Donor Personas: How Top Nonprofits Create Them In 7 Steps

January 8, 2024
5 minutes
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Connecting with donors is a strategic way that nonprofits engage in targeted outreach. Similar to the way for-profits strive to know their customers, nonprofits use donor personas. You must know your donors inside out to communicate with precision. Donor personas empower you to tailor communication strategies and fundraising campaigns that resonate.

So, how do you develop a donor persona?

It revolves around getting to know your donors better, understanding what they like, and how you can get through to them.

Read on to see how to create donor personas in 7 simple steps.

What are donor personas?

Donor personas are profiles representing your target audience, created using a mix of real data and informed assumptions. These personas encapsulate the key characteristics and motivations of distinct donor segments.

Donor personas provide a clear picture of who your supporters are. In practical terms, they're tools for understanding your audience. They go beyond demographics, motivations, and preferences, driving individuals to support your cause.

Donor personas are precise snapshots that help you tailor your communication and outreach strategies.

Why create donor profiles?

Why are the most successful nonprofits pros at connecting with donors? It's because they create donor profiles. Let's uncover why you should invest time in crafting these profiles:

  1. Segment Donors
  2. Retain Donors
  3. Improve Fundraising Campaign Strategies
  4. Enhance Personalization
  5. Optimize Resource Allocation

1. Segment Donors

Donor profiles are the cornerstone for effective segmentation because they help you understand different donor groups. You can tailor your communication to resonate with each segment's specific interests and preferences, enhancing the relevance of your outreach. It also lays the groundwork for more personalized and impactful engagement.

2. Donor Retention

Creating donor profiles isn't a one-time effort. It's a strategic move for long-term relationships between your organization and donors. Knowing them allows you to meet their needs. You can show appreciation in ways that matter to them and boost donor retention. It's about transforming one-time contributors into loyal advocates for your cause.

3. Improve Fundraising Campaign Strategies

Ever felt like your fundraising campaigns missed the mark? Donor personas refine your aim. You can fine-tune your campaign strategies by understanding different donor segments. Whether customizing messages or communication channels, donor profiles guide your decisions for impact.

4. Enhance Personalization

Personalization is a game-changer for nonprofit campaigns. Donor profiles pave the way for a more personalized approach. They allow you to address donors by their preferences and values. This level of personal connection helps foster involvement and commitment to your cause.

5. Optimize Resource Allocation

Time and resources are precious commodities for nonprofits. Donor profiles help optimize resource allocation by directing efforts where they're most effective. It channels resources into strategies aligning with a specific donor group.

Creating donor profiles is a strategic move that amplifies the impact of your nonprofit's efforts.

Key considerations for successfully creating donor personas

One aspect often overlooked in creating donor personas is accepting that not everyone is a prospective donor. It might be tempting to believe that "anyone can be a donor." But the reality is different.

Lisa Bowman, nonprofit marketing expert and Chief Mojo Officer of Marketing Mojo, came on the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast and had this to say about understanding donors in the marketing process:

...more than anything, marketing has not just the responsibility of knowing the customer through customer insight, but answering for the customer the why.

Here are things to keep in mind:

  • Acknowledge that your resources are finite. Focus on individuals who align with your cause.
  • Understand that not everyone will resonate with your organization's mission.
  • Identify the most valuable donor segments aligning with your mission.
  • Consider the power of personal connections in charity fundraising efforts. First-time donors with a direct or emotional tie to your cause may be more inclined to contribute.
  • Craft personas that reflect these personal connections. Also, emphasize the impact of your cause on their lives.

Successful donor persona creation involves not only identifying your ideal donors. It also involves embracing the reality that not everyone will be a perfect fit. Focus your efforts on those with a genuine connection to your cause.

Step-by-step instructions for creating donor personas

Creating donor personas is like building a persona profile for profit-making organizations. It involves research helping you learn more about your donors and how to reach them better. Let’s develop donor personas in 7 steps:

  1. Define donor persona characteristics
  2. Research
  3. Gathering data from marketing assets
  4. Reviewing donor journeys
  5. Interviewing
  6. Build donor personas
  7. Update donor data

Step 1: Define donor persona characteristics

The first step is outlining the defining characteristics that will shape the profile. Here's a breakdown of the data you'll be gathering to define donor personas:

Demographic data

  • Age: Pinpoint the age range of your donors, offering insights into generational preferences.
  • Income Bracket: Determine the financial capacity of your donors to tailor donation appeals.
  • Location: Understand where your supporters are for localized engagement.
  • Education: Explore the educational background to align messaging with their intellectual interests.
  • Marital Status: For married couples, make sure you know who the main point of contact is.
  • Employment: Learn about the employment status and industry preferences for targeted appeals.

Psychographic Information

  • Values: Uncover the core values that drive your donors' philanthropic choices.
  • Motivations: Identify the underlying motivations behind their support for your cause.
  • Lifestyle: Understand the day-to-day habits and routines to plan donor engagement strategies.
  • Opinions: Gauge their views on relevant issues, helping you align messaging.

Giving History

  • Review Past Donations: Understand the history of donor support to inform future appeals.
  • Frequency of Giving: Identify patterns in their giving frequency for targeted engagement.
  • Preferred Causes: Determine if there are specific causes they prefer.

Communication Preference

  • Channels: Identify preferred communication channels, ensuring messages reach them.
  • Frequency: Determine how often they wish to hear from your organization.
  • Content type: Understand their preference for content types to tailor your messaging strategy.

Technology Use

  • Devices: Know their devices for online engagement and optimizing digital outreach.
  • Platforms: Identify preferred social media platforms for targeted online interactions.
  • Tech Literacy: Gauge their comfort with technology to tailor digital communication strategies.

Defining these characteristics lays the foundation for a donor persona beyond surface-level insights. Now, let’s get into how you fill in these characteristics.

Step 2: Research

With our donor profile outline in hand, the next step is to infuse it with meaningful data from a real person. The starting point for crafting robust donor personas is your existing donor database. These supporters are crucial to unlocking a profound understanding of your audience.

In this research phase, let current donors be your bedrock. Start by launching surveys designed to extract direct insights. That includes age, ethnicity, location, employment, income range, and education. Then, craft questions about their values and motivations that drew them to your cause.

Don't stop at motivations; inquire about objections and opportunities. Probe into the reasons donors might say "no" or hesitate to contribute. Identify the opportunities that resonate with your donors. What motivates them to say "yes"? Uncover the triggers that inspire support and enthusiasm.

Ask questions like:  

  • How did you hear about our organization?
  • What inspired you to donate?
  • What are your preferred means of communication? Email, SMS, social media updates, or calls?
  • Are there any aspects of our messaging or donation process that need improvement?
  • Would you join a community of other donors?
  • What is the best way you can show support? Volunteering, cash donations, or gift items?

Once armed with rich insights, the next move is to analyze donor data based on demographics. Identify patterns and preferences within the segments outlined earlier.

Check insights such as:

  • Which age groups show the highest levels of engagement?
  • Are there geographic preferences for support and involvement?
  • Do donors prefer email newsletters, personalized messages, or social media communication?
  • How often would they like to receive communications without feeling overwhelmed?

With survey feedback, we collect data and weave a narrative representing donors.

Step 3: Gathering data from marketing assets

Now, it's time to harness the analytical power of your tools for actionable insights. The data from sources like email campaigns, ads, and social media are a goldmine. They offer a baseline for understanding your audience's response. Here's how you can leverage these insights in a practical and actionable manner:

Use Analytical Tools

  • Email Campaigns: Check the analytics of your email campaigns. Identify metrics such as open rates, bounce rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates.
  • Ads Performance: Check the effectiveness of your ads by examining metrics. Some important ones are click-through rates, impressions, and conversion rates.
  • Social Media Engagement: Leverage social media analytics to understand engagement metrics. Pay attention to likes, shares, comments, and click-throughs.

Study Past Interactions

  • Identify Successful Channels: Analyze past interactions to determine channels yielding the best results. These are the channels that resonate most with your audience.
  • Content Effectiveness: Assess the performance of different types of content. Understand which topics, formats, or storytelling approaches have garnered the most engagement.

Segmentation Analysis

  • Demographic Segmentation: Cross-reference the success of marketing assets with demographic segments. Determine if certain campaigns or content types resonate more with specific groups.
  • Behavioral Segmentation: Examine the data based on behavioral segments identified in previous steps. Understand the preferences of major donors, monthly volunteers, or other valuable segments.

Identify Patterns and Trends

  • Temporal Trends: Look for patterns related to timing. Identify specific days or times when your audience is most responsive to campaigns.
  • Seasonal Variations: Analyze whether there are seasonal trends affecting engagement. Certain themes or campaigns may perform better during specific seasons or events.

By analyzing past interactions and deriving actionable insights, you are gathering data. You're also building a foundation for improving your fundraising operations.

Step 4: Reviewing donor journeys

It's tricky to pinpoint what drives people because motivations change. When you look at how they became a donor to your organization, you can deduce some important facts. Looking at a typical donor journey, here's how you can gather data at each stage;

  • Awareness: This is the stage where the donor becomes aware of your nonprofit organization. Reviewing this first stage, you can tell how your donor learned about your organization. Was it through ads, PR, social media, or newsletters?
  • Consideration: Here is the stage where your donor starts deliberating. They could be considering you and other organizations to check which to support. Campaigns, like paid ads, web content marketing, and social media posts, push them here. What made your donor start considering you?
  • Intent: At this stage, your donor shows interest by engaging, asking, signing up, and more. You have to push them to support your cause when they show interest. Looking at this stage in the donor cycle, you can decipher their preferred communication channels and motivations.
  • First donation: Your organization must have donation packages for donors. What did they pick? Did they donate more or less than specified in the options? This helps you derive some information about their donation capacity.
  • Re-engagement: This is where you show appreciation for the donation. Introduce your donor to other means of giving, like volunteer opportunities, influencing, and referrals. Which did they choose? This is useful in gathering their behavioral data and giving history information.
  • Stewardship: This is the stage where you make your donors feel like a part of a community. You don't want them to feel disconnected, and you want to make a loyal donor out of them. So, you hit them with newsletters, updates, stories, and more. What is their engagement level? Do they give a thumbs up, open the letters, or respond to your common groups? Again, this helps with gathering their behavioral information and preferred communication channels.

As you can see, studying your current donor cycle can fill gaps in your persona profile to improve your targeting.

Step 5: Interviewing

Direct conversations with donors help to confirm insights gathered from the previous steps. This includes research, surveys, cycle reviews, and data analytics. The goal is to better understand their motivations, preferences, and experiences.

Remember to approach interviews conversationally, allowing donors to share their experiences. These interviews serve as a qualitative layer to complement quantitative data. They provide a more comprehensive understanding of your donors' perspectives.

Also, consider asking previous donors for social proof during your interviews. Insights from their experiences can provide valuable narratives for acquiring new donors.

Step 6: Build donor personas

After gathering data, bring your potential donors to life by creating personas. You must translate the insights collected and turn them into comprehensive profiles. Each persona should reflect the unique characteristics of your donor base.

A common approach involves crafting narratives around each persona. This consists of depicting their journey and experiences with your organization. Through these narratives, real stories and scenarios unfold. They then explain how individuals within each segment contribute to your cause.

After creating the personas, share the completed donor personas with relevant teams. Ensure seamless alignment across outreach, fundraising, and communication efforts. You allow coordinated outreach strategies by fostering a shared understanding of these personas.

Step 7: Update donor data

Creating and refining donor personas is an ongoing effort. These personas adapt as your organization grows and your donor community changes. To keep them effective, it's crucial to update donor data.

Think of this process as an investment in maintaining strong connections with donors. Updating your data lets you stay in tune with your supporters' current needs. This ensures your communication strategies remain precise and relevant. Here's how you can do it:

  1. Engagement Metrics
  2. Interviews and Conversations
  3. Data Analytics
  4. Communication Preferences
  5. Impact Assessment
  6. Feedback Loops

Track Engagement Metrics:

Track metrics from channels like email campaigns and social media. Also, analyze what content or campaigns resonate most with your donors.

Interviews and Conversations:

Conduct one-on-one interviews with donors. Then, use these conversations to confirm and enrich the existing data.

Data Analytics:

Analyze the information in your donor database: demographics, behaviors, and engagement levels. Identify patterns and trends that may have emerged since the last update.

Communication Preferences:

Keep tabs on evolving communication preferences. Pay attention to changes in preferred channels and frequency.

Impact Assessment:

Assess the impact of your organization's activities on donor engagement and retention. Understand how recent initiatives have influenced donor behaviors.

Feedback Loop:

Establish a feedback loop to capture insights from your fundraising teams. Ensure that the donor personas align with their experiences and observations.

Employing these methods ensures that your donor personas stay current and relevant. This iterative approach keeps your communication and marketing tactics tuned. It strengthens the connection between your organization and its donors over time.

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Wrapping Up!

In fundraising, understanding your donors is the key to success. Crafting detailed donor personas empowers organizations to connect on a profound level. It allows you to tailor outreach and campaigns for impact.

The seven-step process outlined here ensures a comprehensive understanding of your audience. But the journey doesn't end there. To translate these insights into action, use Funraise. The transformative fundraising tool automates processes, enhances branding, and integrates with essential platforms.

Julian Lankstead is the founder of He helps businesses increase revenue by providing strategies to improve business process efficiency.

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