6 steps to building audience segments and personas for your nonprofit

In this digital age, everyone has experienced personalized marketing. Brand emails are addressed with your first name, Amazon recommends related products, and you get newsletters about your favorite hobbies.


Donors crave this personalization, too, and marketers like you get better results from it. In fact, personalized emails generate transaction rates and revenue (such as donations) six times higher than non-personalized emails.

Definitions you need to know
Segmentation: The practice of dividing your audience into groups or segments based on similar characteristics, such as age, gender, household income and interests.

Persona: A fictional character that is representative of people in the segment.

Personalization: The practice of creating content (emails, blogs, social posts, etc.) that is customized to each persona, or in some cases, each individual in the audience.

How do I create a persona?

Step 1: Collect information
First, export information from your donor database and/or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.
Review audience demographics, like age range, gender breakdown and gift size.
Use the native analytics available on your social media accounts to view the makeup of your audience.
Look at any surveys you’ve done in the past that offer insights into your audience.
If you don’t have very much information available, consider a data append from a third-party vendor.

Taken together, all the information you’ve gathered should offer a generalized view of the different kinds of donors you have.

Step 2: Define the personas
Use the UpPurpose Create Your Personas worksheet to start defining characteristics for each donor type. Remember, these personas are representations of an audience segment that includes a diverse array of people. No one in the segment will exhibit all these traits exactly. But the persona should provide a guide for your marketing decisions and strategies. To start with, try creating four to six personas.

For each persona, try defining these categories:
Household income
Neighborhood or city
Children at home?
Number of years as a donor
Size of donation
Volunteer involvement
Event attendance

After you’ve got these basics down, write a description for each persona and reflect on what motivates them to give to your nonprofit.

Step 3: Assign the personas
If possible, export a list of your entire donor database, including as many specifics as you can find for the categories listed above. You don’t have to find them all, but you should use as much data as you have. Then, filter your spreadsheet to start dividing people into different segments. When in doubt, use age, gender, household income, and gift size as your key characteristics.

After everyone has been assigned a persona, import that information into your database or CRM so that you can easily sort donors and pull lists. Then you can calculate what percentage of the database each persona represents.

Step 4: Prioritize
Decide on two to three personas that need more of your attention. Maybe you want to give your biggest donors a little more TLC. If your organization isn’t retaining enough young donors, you may want to focus on them. Determine which donor segments would start giving more with just a little extra work on your part.

Step 5: Map personas to your Digital Marketing Plan
As you create your Digital Marketing Plan (pro tip: UpPurpose has a free template for that, too!), match your personas to different strategies and tactics. For example, some segments might get an email a week and others a monthly summary. Certain blogs could be written to appeal to the interests of a specific persona.

Keep donors’ interests, communication preferences, and technology skills top of mind. How much time does this persona have to read email? Are they more interested in client stories or hard numbers? Are they more likely to attend a webinar or volunteer with family?

Step 6: Create customized content
Once you’ve established a general strategy for each persona, start labeling content on your email and editorial calendars with persona names. Whenever you add content in the future, decide whether it needs personalization and, if so, which segments apply.

In some email management systems, you can swap out content in the same email for different audiences. For example, the top story in a newsletter could show up for one persona but not for another. Or the subject line could differ based on the segment. Consider playing with these tools to customize your messaging.

Finally, when creating social media ads and boosted posts, experiment with targeting certain personas, or even try different wording or imagery for each audience.

Looking to cut down the time you spend creating blogs and social posts? Check out our free Blog Template and Social Post Template, which can help make your content more consistent and relevant to your audience.

As you get started on this work, seeing examples can spark ideas for your own personas. Check out the UpPurpose Sample Personas for Nonprofits, which offers nine unique options, from Philanthropic Leader to Reluctant Donor.


Download Sample Personas for Nonprofits

Any questions?

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