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Why you should be investing in donor personas


You probably have a good idea who your donors are – but as part of a human centered design approach, many not-for-profits and charities are finding that there is a strong case for really understanding who your donors are, and using those insights to design your approach to fundraising. They are doing this by creating donor personas, based on a real understanding and evidence of how your users behave.

This post will show you:

  1. Why donor personas are important for designing your approach to fundraising
  2. How to go about creating your own donor personas

The Digital Outlook Report 2016 found:

“Last year, in our first annual report, we saw a correlation between organizations investing in personas and citing shorter average conversion times between a constituent’s first interaction with an organization and their first donation.”

Sounds like reason enough…but there was more:

“ these organizations cited shorter times between a constituent’s first gift and their second gift. We know that persona development improves both acquisition rates and has a positive impact on retention.”

So if you aren’t using personas in designing your fundraising campaigns and digital donor experiences; why not? They can be done fairly quickly and as shown above, can produce real benefits for your organisation.

Design with data – not what you think, what you KNOW

Personas are a fictionalized representation of data that you actually have on your donors. It is important not to just write down how you think your donors behave, but to use this as a chance to find evidence of how they behave and design for that.

Decide on the segmentation of your donors

You may want to segment into:

  • Age group
  • Donation status e.g. regular giver
  • How recently they graduated

Let’s pretend you choose age group – you look at your database and realise most of your donors from the past year have been 35-45. The next step would be to find out some more information about this group.

You can do this in several ways, for example it may be possible to find out from your database:

  • How have most of these have donated to you (online, over the telephone, postal order?)
  • When did most of these donate to you (was it a particular ask in a mail shot, through crowdfunding?)
  • Are they mostly male or female?
  • Where do they live?
  • Average income?
  • Marital status?
  • Type of work?
  • What are their response rates on social media, telephone campaigns, mailshots, email campaigns etc

There will be other characterizations of donation habits available online. You can also use your Google Analytics for those who have donated online to find out more about their interests and their referral paths. See here for more information on getting started with Google Analytics.

To gain further information, you could contact a few of your engaged donors, who are representative of this segment, for further information:

  • What motivates these people to give?
  • How do they like to be contacted?
  • What other kind of donations do they make?

The information you can collect will be endless; focus on the things that are really important to know. You probably don’t need to know what kind of operating system your donors use, but you do need to know if they own a mobile or a tablet.

Organise all this information by segment, as below, and you have the beginning of your user personas.


35-45Male/ FemaleFemaleMaleHow do they give?OnlineOnlineWhen do they give?After crowdfunding campaignsAfter telephone campaignsWhat motivates them to give?Being part of something and giving backBeing able to contribute to worthwhile causesHow to they like to be contacted?Text, email, social mediaEmail, callWhat interests to they have?Television, live musicMovies, restaurants, petsWhat others kinds of donations do they make?Donates to local cat charityDonates to children's’ charity

Create donor personas

Using the data to create a persona lets them become an identifiable donor with whom your team can begin to start empathising. It helps teams think about things from the perspective of that person, not how they would feel or react. It means their needs are easier to pick out, discuss, and work to create a solution to that would suit the persona.

Give your donor personas the following:

  • Full Name and a picture (from a free stock photo site)
  • This is to make the persona easier to empathise with for your team
  • Goals or reasons for engaging with your organisation
  • Keep them brief and rooted in the data you collected
  • Biography / background information based on the data you have gathered
  • Include their preferences on being contacted
  • Are they an avid user of social media? Or do they prefer to be contacted by post?
  • Their motivations for giving

Example Persona

Example persona

Keep them brief; the idea is to engage those responsible for designing your donor interactions engaged and help them understand the donor’s motivations and pain points in the process.

There are lots of great free donor persona templates – just google ‘donor persona template’ or ‘user persona template’.  Or you can create your own using the sections outlined above.

At Hubbub we used to create ours, and has some examples of ways to organise the information:

How to use donor personas

Once you have created personas for each segment (in our example above this would probably be 18-25, 35-45, 45-55 and 55-65 and 65 & above), write a short ask or appeal for each. They are likely to sound quite different!

Particularly if you created them on your own, socialise them within your organisation and validate them with other members of staff.

Then send them to everyone. Print them off. Stick them on walls. Ask and remind people to use them when considering any new aspect of interaction with donors. This might include, but is in no way limited to:

  • Creating a new ask for your donors – do you still only need one?  Would it be better to tailor it slightly for each persona?
  • Running a fundraising event
  • Deciding how to thank your donors
  • Deciding how to steward your donors – when and how to make your next ask
  • Creating a new website, or any new web content

They need to be used as part of a ‘human centered design’ approach by your team; this means trying to have real empathy with and understanding of your donors and their needs.


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