By Jeff Kline


How To Create Audience Personas For Your Nonprofit

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Your content has a much better chance of attracting people and eventually converting them into a member or donor if you know who you’re talking to. I mean really know them.

That’s why you should create personas for the target audiences you are trying to reach.

What Is A Persona?

personaA persona is sort of like a fictional character, someone you create, who could realistically be a member of your target audience.

Creating a persona is similar to the way a novelist  develops a character. Think of how F. Scott Fitzgerald created Jay Gatsby and, throughout the novel, brought the character to life. Gatsby has memories of his past, hopes and dreams for his future, and real human emotions and desires.

I like the way Ardath Albee of Marketing Interactions, Inc. describes personas:

A persona is “a composite sketch, representative of a segment of your target market.”

“A persona is really focused on the roles and responsibilities of particular people that you are going to try to establish dialogue and conversation with.”

Make sure you don’t get the terms “persona” and “target audience” confused. Remember, your target audience is the anonymous mass of people that your persona is representing.

The Benefits Of Creating Personas

Using personas will greatly improve the effectiveness of your content marketing by allowing you to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of who you are creating content for.
  • Gain insight into their questions, interests and informational needs.
  • Target your content toward an audience that has a genuine interest in what you’re offering, rather than wasting time and resources marketing to a broader audience.

Creating personas doesn’t have to be complicated. We’ve developed a 6-step formula (and a template) to make it easy.


6 Steps To Creating A Persona For Your Nonprofit

To demonstrate how to create a persona, I’m going to use a fictional chamber of commerce as an example.

1) Identify your goals and audiences.

Think about your organizational goals, and who your target audiences are for each goal. (For most goals, you will have more than one target audience.) 

Let’s say one of the example chamber’s goals is to grow membership. Their list of target audiences for that goal might look like this:

Goal: Grow Membership

Target Audiences:

  • Small business owners with revenues under $1 million
  • Restaurant owners located downtown
  • Doctors within 10 miles of the chamber
  • Attorneys within 10 miles of the chamber
  • Digital agency owners within 10 miles of the chamber

(If you feel overwhelmed at the idea of creating personas for multiple target audiences, just start with your most important one. The others can come later, once you’ve gotten the hang of things.)

Let’s assume that digital agency owners is our example chamber’s most important target audience, and we’ll focus on building out that persona.

2) Name your persona.

Giving your persona a first and last name will help you envision him/her as a real person. Let’s call our guy Digital Agency Owner Doug Press.

3) Define demographics and psychographics.

First, do some research on your target audience as a whole. Gather data like typical age range, gender ratio, average education levels, average income, etc. Once you’ve gathered enough data to see the big picture, you can create a unique profile for your persona that will represent that entire audience. 

The type of information you include in your persona’s demographic/psychographic profile might vary, but here are some basic guidelines for the information you should include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family Status
  • Education
  • Job Title
  • Interests and hobbies

Doug is a 38-year-old man with a wife and two kids aged 10 and 12. He is the CEO of Horizon Media, a web design and digital marketing company in Sarasota, Florida. He received a BA in Marketing and an MBA from the University of Florida. When he’s not working, he enjoys watching college football and camping with his family. He enjoys reading books about marketing and business leadership, and he loves documentaries.

*Once you've defined his demographics and psychographics, find a stock photograph that matches his description. Having a visual will make him seem even more human.

4) Define his responsibilities and challenges (for which your organization can be a solution).

This is where you start connecting the dots between who this person is and how your organization can be of value to him.

When defining your persona’s responsibilities and challenges, don’t blindly make things up! Gain better insight into the target audience your persona represents by using these two research tactics:

  • Interview your organization’s current members, donors, volunteers and supporters. Ask them about their challenges during the “buying” process, what concerns they may have had about taking the next step in the process, what questions they asked, etc.
  • Join LinkedIn Groups that members of your target audience participate in, and read the discussions to learn what type of questions they’re asking and what subjects are a “hot topic” for them.

Use your research findings to create a unique description of your persona’s responsibilities and challenges.

Doug is responsible for managing a team of 20 people, acquiring new customers, staying on top of the latest digital media industry trends, running his business ethically and efficiently, and increasing profits.

5) Write his “I want”/“I need” statement.

The “I want” or “I need” statement should describe the solution your persona is looking for. It should be a solution to the challenges described in step 4, that can be provided by your organization.

 “I want to meet more business owners in the community (particularly those with 20 or less employees), uncover new business opportunities, and influence local government policies and regulations.”

6) Describe his online activity.

What are his preferred methods of communication on the Web? What are his favorite websites? Is he active on social media? Does he own a smartphone or tablet? Does he read blogs?

By figuring out how he uses the Web and digital media, you can determine the best channels for reaching out to him.

Doug prefers to be contacted via email, rather than by phone. He owns an iPhone, an iPad and a MacBook Pro. His favorite social network is LinkedIn—he is active in the Digital Marketing Group’s discussions. He uses Facebook for personal means only. He uses Twitter as his company handle (@horizonmediacom) rather than having a personal account. His favorite websites include Mashable, Web Designer Depot and Search Engine Roundtable.


Free Persona Template

Ready to start creating your personas? We’ve created a template that makes it easy for you to follow our 6 step formula for creating a persona.

Download my template


Up Next: Understanding Your Audience's Decision-Making Process

Creating personas is the first step to developing relevant content—by understanding who you're talking to, you can write content that will better resonate with them.

But to create truly relevant content, you also have to consider your target audience's Decision-Making Process.

Come back next week to learn about the different stages of the decision-making process, and learn how to determine your audience's informational needs for each stage.


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