How to Determine Your Nonprofit’s Target Audience


In an ideal world, you would be able to convince every person on earth that your cause is worth backing. Realistically, you’ll have to settle for particular groups that share your unbridled enthusiasm and hone your efforts towards earning their support. But where to start?

Do Your Research

Before you try anything else, you first have to look at your organization’s current members in order to hone in on a particular audience. Pull up your community’s database and look for patterns, such as a group who listens to a particular radio show or gives during a certain time of year.

From the groups, schedule phone interviews with a few people that represent each one. This will allow you to analyze more emerging patterns and discover more groups that belong to your organization. With this data, you can then use these facts to determine personas that will help you craft messages and marketing strategies, which we will in the next section.

Create Personas

Now, it’s story time. Creating personas will give you the tools needed to send your message out to the most appropriate audience. Take the characteristics of your current supporters along with the qualities you’d like to see in ideal members and break them down into smaller groups based on demographics and behaviors. Then, break those down into further groups, such as recent grades, retirees, and philanthropists. From this pool, you can then create your personas from each category. Treat them like real, flesh-and-blood people who have names and lives and have some vested interested in your organization.

For example, Samantha is a 22-year-old woman who just finished her degree and is looking for work, so money is a bit tight for her right now. From here, you can tailor volunteer messages and donation asks to her persona. In this case, you would offer regular volunteer hours that she could use to boost her resume and ask for a minimal donation each month to stay in her budget.

Consult Your Team

If this doesn’t give you as clear a picture as you’d like, then it’s time to get the whole team on it. Bringing together multiple minds to map out the details will prove far more effective than trying to go it alone. Everyone has a different experience with the organization, and one person might see a potential member that you or someone else hadn’t even considered.

If you can, it might even be wise to call in your board members and supporters, since they have firsthand involvement with the cause. And as a bonus, they will appreciate that you value their opinion and will likely become more loyal to the cause. Once you have compiled a list from this meeting, prioritize the audiences you have all come up with and send out your message.

Determine Goals

 Your final step involves some self-reflection. After collecting data from all sides, you need to ensure that your organization’s goals match up with your audience. And if you don’t know what direction your campaign is going, how do you plan to convince others to join your cause?

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to better define your message:

  • What is your call to action? Do you want your audience to donate, volunteer, buy a product, or become an advocate?
  • What problems does your cause alleviate for these groups?
  • What challenges might keep them from contributing?
  • Based on these answers, did you pick the right target audience?

If for any reason you feel a sense of uncertainty when asking these questions, it might be best to start over so you do not waste unneeded resources on marketing to the wrong audience. It might be frustrating, but it’s far better than seeing your donations plummet because you hit the pedal too soon.

Despite the title “nonprofit,” NPOs still need to make strategic use of marketing efforts in order to gain a foothold in an extremely competitive sphere. And because certain organizations operate within such a niche market, it’s that much more important to target your recruitment efforts to the right people in the right way.

But this isn’t to say that there is one true golden audience that will consistently give and grow and keep your operation running single-handedly – multiple audiences exist for every NPO, no matter the cause. Whether you run a budding nonprofit or you’ve had 20 consecutive years of success, make sure to run through the data, renew your personas, and convene with your allies in order to maintain awareness of your target audience.

Ryan Bridges is a contributing writer and media specialist for SBI Association Management. He regularly produces content for a variety of nonprofit management blogs, based around the transitional challenges that come with nonprofit fundraising and marketing efforts.

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