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Developing Donor Personas: What They Are and Why They Matter

Samantha Hunter
Published:  04/12/2021
Silhouette photo of a person
Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

So you’ve brainstormed with your team and come up with a great Giving Tuesday outreach idea, but even the best idea won’t go anywhere if you don’t know how to talk about it effectively. You need to understand who your ideal donor is, how to talk to them so your message resonates, and maybe most importantly, where to reach them. 

That’s where developing a donor persona comes in.

What is a donor persona? 

A donor persona is a fictional archetype of your ideal donor that’s based on real data about your current and potential donor base. It typically includes demographic data, goals, interests, concerns, and behavior patterns of your defined audience. A well developed donor persona, will give you and your team a better understanding of who you are talking to and how to effectively engage with them.

Taking the time to create these personas will help your organization:

  • Create highly targeted messaging and fundraising campaigns
  • Attract prospective donors to your website
  • Identify where your ideal donor goes for information and how you can reach them there
  • Develop a consistent message that resonates with your audience

It all starts with research 

First, you’ll want to segment your donors into categories. These personas are only helpful if they are specific enough to deliver unique results. Key audiences you can start with are one or two-time donors, monthly donors, large donors, and volunteers. 

Now you’re probably thinking, ok I’ve segmented my audience, where do I find people to interview? That’s easy. Reach out to donors you already work with. They clearly feel connected to your mission and already work with your organization, so you’ve already got a great pool of candidates for interviews. There is no ‘gold standard’ number of interviews to conduct, but once you are able to predict people's answers, you’ve probably done enough.

Here are a few suggested questions to get you started:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How would your friends or colleagues describe you?
  • What are your goals, passions, and interests?
  • What is your preferred method of communication?
  • How and why do you engage with our organization?
  • Where and how do you get your information?
  • What type of messaging and stories resonate with you? And what types of appeals don’t?

Developing your fictional personas 

Once you’ve conducted all of your interviews, then it’s time to compile your results into distinct donor profiles. Like I mentioned before, good personas include demographic data, psychographic data, and behavioral information.

Though you won’t want to identify specific individuals in the profiles you create, including real quotes from the interviews is important. You should also include a stock photo that fits with your demographic data. The more detailed you can get in each profile, the more your development team will really understand what donors are concerned about, who they are, and why they give. 

It’s also important to highlight common objections that donors raise and information on what doesn’t resonate with them. This will help your fundraising team prepare responses for objections that might come up during conversations. Understanding likes and dislikes will help as your team tries to think of what kind of appeals will resonate with each audience. The more your potential donors can see that you are speaking directly to them, the more engaged they will be in your campaigns. 

When donor personas are done well, they can be used for any fundraising campaign your organization runs. One-size fits all fundraising can only go so far. By taking the time to define donor personas, your fundraising campaigns will feel more intentional and strategic and will meet your donors where they are.

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Meet The Author

Sam Hunter headshot
Samantha Hunter
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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