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Make Real Donors of Your Ideal Donor Personas: Six Steps to Get You Started

This year, Mental Health Awareness Month was focused on mental wellness. In my last post, I offered stressed-out fundraisers for mental health missions three “gifts” of marketing to make messaging efforts more effective: ideal buyer persona, the Rule of Seven, and the mantra, “brands matter”.

When all three marketing approaches are incorporated into your messaging, your fundraising will immediately improve. Whether or not you have even heard of an ideal buyer persona or marketing persona, you, dear fundraiser, need some way to connect with your target audience. 

After reading this post, you will know what an ideal buyer profile is and, more importantly, you will know how to get started on creating an ideal donor persona by making use of the information you already have in your head or in your CRM.  

 
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Your Ideal Donor

Create and Cultivate

Seeking Your Ideal Donor Persona

What fundraisers are looking for are long-lasting, mutually beneficial philanthropic relationships with donors. So, you may ask: Why create fictional characterizations? How is a donor persona different than a donor profile? Contrary to how may sound to you, an ideal donor persona is much more than a traditional donor profile.

The buyer persona, says Tony Zambito, tells the buyer’s story: the who, what, where, when, why and how of a buyer’s behavior.

Marketers use an ideal buyer persona, an archetype of actual buyer behavior to communicate to that archetype in a way that is compelling, convenient, and convincing.

Fundraisers who use donor profiles to summarize a donor's demographics, affinity, wealth indicators and passions/hobbies are stopping short of the donor story or a donor’s journey with your mission. A donor profile is supposed to tell a fundraiser about the donor’s readiness to give. Unlike a donor profile, an ideal donor persona goes beyond demographics (who and where) and affinity (what and why), and shows us a donor’s when and how.

Create Your Ideal Donor Story

Information makes all the difference between a buyer profile and a buyer persona. Before marketers model their ideal buyer persona, before they conduct research (i.e. surveys, focus groups and customer interviews), they start with a profile.  

Using information from your donor database, your donor interactions, and the interactions of others in your organization with the donor, you can create an ideal donor profile that will help you act more effectively and efficiently as a fundraiser.

Step 1: Categorize your organization’s current donors and actual prospects into ideal types (i.e. online donors who respond en masse to a crisis or check writers at charity auctions). Allow your segmentation training to kick in here.

HINT: If you have trouble categorizing your organization’s donors, use your current segmentation categories. To narrow them down, rank the segments according to the percentage of your organization’s fundraising (or operating) budget.

For our purposes, my fictitious organization’s ideal donor types (IDT) look like this:

  1. Mobile Donor - 3% of the contributed income total last year and growing

  2. Scholarship Donor - 15% of the contributed income total annually

  3. Major Gift Donor - 70% of the contributed income total annually

Step 2: Under each IDT, write down some classic donor characteristics for each. Try to complete the who, what, where, and how. It is very important to pattern the IDT characteristics after an actual donor to your organization.

For example:

Mobile Donor:

  • College educated;

  • Early career professional;

  • Age 20–35, single, no kids;

  • Lives and works within a 50-mile radius of organization;

  • Annual Giving Total is equal to or lesser than $150;

  • Makes gifts of $25 and less by phone and online;

  • Opt-in for email;

  • Social Follower.

Young Artist Scholarship Donor:

  • College educated;

  • Mid- to senior-level career and/ or business owner;

  • Age 30–50, married with children;

  • Homeowners;

  • Lifetime Giving greater than $10,000 (over 5 years or more);

  • Makes multiple gifts annually of $100 or more;

  • Largest gift amount is $1,000 to provide a one-year scholarship for a youth;

  • Responds to direct marketing and personal asks;

  • Social Follower;

  • Volunteer.

Major Gift Donor:

  • College educated;

  • Retired professional or former business owner;

  • Age 65-80, has grown children & grandchildren;

  • Owns secondary property;

  • Lifetime Giving greater than $50,000, (at least 7 years of donating to your organization);

  • Makes multiple gifts annually of $100 or more;

  • Largest gift amount is $10,000 to sponsor annual fundraising event;

  • Responds to direct marketing and personal asks;

  • Volunteer leader.

Step 3: Write down what each IDT is trying to accomplish with their donation to your organization (i.e. their personal or professional goals, their financial goals, their philanthropic goals). You can find research on values and trends online that provides insight into the millennial or major gift donors. The best information is going to come from the real conversations you have already had with these actual donors.

For example:

Mobile Donor:

  • Professional Goal(s): Make connections with like-minded people.

  • Personal Goal(s): Giving fulfills a desire to directly affect the lives of others.

Step 4: Write down how your ideal donor makes their philanthropic decisions. This involves a deeper understanding of a donor’s attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, motivations and guiding principles related to your donor’s charitable giving.

For example:

Mobile Donor:

  • Philanthropic Decisions are made by conducting research online and taking into account advice from a trusted source.

Step 5:  Write down how making a donation actually fits into this IDT’s life. The goal is to describe your ideal donor’s giving habits and illuminate their preferences for engagement with your organization.

For example:

Mobile Donor:

  • Preferred type of donation: credit or debit card online or a payment app on their phone.

Step 6: Write down when your ideal donor makes a gift. Go to the source of your IDT’s giving patterns: your campaign data (mobile, email, or direct mail). Pay attention to the patterns of giving, and what may have triggered the gift.

For example:

Mobile Donor:

  • College educated;

  • Early career professional;

  • Age 20–35, single, no kids;

  • Lives and works within a 20-mile radius of organization;

  • Annual Giving Total is equal to or lesser than $150;

  • Makes gifts of $25 and less by phone and online;

  • Opt-in for email;

  • Social Follower.

  • Professional Goal(s): Make connections with like-minded people.

  • Personal Goal(s): Giving fulfills a desire to directly affect the lives of others.

  • Philanthropic Decisions are made by conducting research online and taking into account advice from a trusted source.

  • Preferred type of donation: using a credit or debit card online or a payment app on their phone.

  • Giving patterns: Gifts made are prompted by an email or social media ask.

Now, we have what marketers call an ‘ideal buyer profile’ which is the foundation of a researched and tested ideal buyer persona. 

Cultivation of Ideal Donor Personas

After you have created your organization's ideal donor profiles you are ready to start research: by applying your ideal donor story to your cultivation strategy.

By testing out your IDTs in-real-life you have an opportunity to get to know your biggest supporters or those with the greatest potential while also identifying future ideal donor personas. Knowing your target audience and their story before you even approach them, will help you reach your goals with less guesswork and greater success.