Using Donor Personas To Know Your Nonprofit Supporters Better

KindfulDecember 28, 2016

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Your donors are the lifeline of your nonprofit. But how much do you really know about them? By having a better understanding of your donors and what’s important to them, you’ll be better able to connect with them and develop outreach that’s meaningful not only for your mission but also for your fundraising needs. That’s where donor personas come into play.

You can think of a persona as a representation of a typical donor that incorporates their demographic information, goals, passions, and their preferred communication style. You can have multiple personas and the more specific you can be in identifying them, the better.

Donor personas will help you:

  1. Identify potential donors
  2. Message your donor base more effectively
  3. Help you define which communication and social media channels are most important for your organization.

If your organization has a broad support base (ranging from retirees to college students and everywhere in between), it’s important to develop your donor personas to differentiate the behaviors and interests of your fundraising base. Plus developing donor personas can help you find new donors. We’ll help you get started in this post.

Build Your Donor Persona Framework

To begin, let’s dig into what information would you like to gather from your donor base. Having a framework for the areas of information you would like to know about your supporters will help you create a thorough and insightful donor personas.

donor persona example

Let’s begin with the basic structure of a persona:


  • What is their age range? (It’s okay to guess you think it is inappropriate to ask)
  • What is their gender?
  • What is their estimated household income? (Okay to guess as well)


  • What is their occupation and employer?
  • What is their education level?

Communication Style:

  • What is their communication style?
  • Which channels do they prefer to use to receive information from you? (This can include online and offline tools.)


  • What motivates them to donate / volunteer / support nonprofits in general?
  • What motivates them to donate / volunteer / support your nonprofit in particular?
  • What goals may they have for the nonprofit and/or the cause you’re representing?


  • Are they a beneficiary of your product or service?
  • How would they describe the issue area or community need you are serving through your nonprofit’s work?

Common Objections:

  • What are common objections the donor / volunteer / supporter may use during fundraising appeals?

Real Quotes:

  • Make sure you collect actual quotes from your personas. This will make it easier for your team to understand and relate to the persona.

Meet With Your Donors

Now that you have frameworks in place, you can begin collecting data. You could quickly build different donor personas based on the insights of your nonprofit team’s assumptions. However, it is best to take a fresh perspective and dig into who exactly are your donors. This is because you want to the most recent data and information driving your fundraising efforts, not outdated assumptions. While interviewing your donors is not a mandatory step, we highly recommend it!

Your existing donor base is the best place to start finding your interviewees. Maybe you have a long-term relationship with a current donor, or there is someone that has attended or volunteered at your events that you feel comfortable having more discussion with. These are good starting points to begin building a group. There is no magic number of participants, but it’s it is important you reach out to a diverse group of donors — one-time donors, recurring donors, large or small donors — across many demographics (by gender, age, education, occupation). These diverse perspectives will help you develop stronger personas.

You can interview your donors over the phone, video chat, or in-person for about 15 minutes. For more sensitive questions around demographic data, you can invite them to fill out a voluntary, anonymous survey.

When you reach out, make your motivations clear. You can say that you are engaging with these donors to improve the capacity of your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts and better understand your supporter base. You are not using this as an opportunity to solicit further donations. Also, assure that any personal information shared will be kept private.

Creating Your Donor Personas

Now that you’ve collected the data, it’s time to create your personas. Once you’ve compiled the feedback from your interviews, you should meet with members of your team and start identifying patterns to build unique donor personas around different groups of supporters.  Don’t force any arrangements, but deeply consider your results; are the donors created a true representative of your donors? Do you need to interview more donors?

We are big fans of using tools that help you easily create personas and share them with your team. Xtensio offers a whole suite of tools – but our favorite is their User Persona Creator. It is a tool the Enact Impact team used when we were developing our online community for nonprofit and impact professionals. It is highly customizable and free.

Userforge also develops a highly-touted user persona creator. It is free, allows easy team collaboration, but built with design teams in mind.

Using Your Donor Personas To Find New Donors

Now you’ve got a solid roster of donor personas. What’s next? First, share them with your entire team, and if you’re in a marketing, communications, or fundraising role, consider printing them out and hang them by your desk. You can now use these personas when you are thinking about creative ways to acquire new donors or retain your current ones. Consider editing these personas along the way, especially when you get more data or grow your donor base.

Once you’ve created your donor personas, we recommend checking out our post on the donor journey.

Why It’s Important To Understand The Donor Journey »

Schedule a live demo with our partner Bloomerang, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.

Filed Under:   Communication