2 min Read
September 19, 2012

Nice to meet you, audience.

How well do you really know the people your nonprofit is trying to reach? Be honest, now. If the answer is “not very,” you’re in good company.

We asked over 600 nonprofit professionals about their audiences through our Brandraising Scorecard, and the answers made it clear that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Only about a third of the organizations had done some research to understand their audiences better, and less than half feel that their nonprofit chooses communications channels strategically to best reach their audience.

If you want to communicate effectively, it’s important to know who you’re talking to. But deep audience research and testing are prohibitively expensive (and time-consuming) for many nonprofits. How can you bring a focus on real people into your communications without breaking the bank?

Developing audience personas can be a great place to start. Audience personas are fictional profiles of typical members of your target audience, and they can be very useful tools in your communications. The idea is to remind yourself that there are real people on the other end of that email or that newsletter, and that you should send it with their motivations and needs in mind. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Make a list of the top three key audience groups that you want to reach through your communications.
  1. For each of those groups, think of two actual people who might be a part of your audience. They might be imaginary, but it’s generally most useful to base it on a real person who’s connected to your organization. (In fact, if you can, you may even want to interview that person and build the profile around their answers.)
  1. Give each person a name and note key facts about their background and who they are (e.g. age, gender, race/ethnicity, location, employment, education, interests, preferred ways to communicate, etc.).
  1. For each person, answer the following questions: how did she find or connect with us? What is she looking for from us? What are we looking for from her?
  1. Write up your personas, one per page, and give each one a photo. Share the document with key communicators at your organization.
  1. Keep those personas nearby–you may even want to hang a shortened version up on the wall near your computer. As you write and create and plan, use them to check yourself: am I thinking about what matters to Julie? Have I considered whether this piece is really relevant for Sam?

Audience personas aren’t a substitute for research, but they can be a great way push yourselves to consider things from a supporter’s point of view.

How do you get better acquainted with your audiences? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments.