Pop quiz time! What is one sure fire way to ensure your non-profit's communications are ineffective? Answer: not knowing your audience. I harp on the concept of knowing your audience all the time for communications, fundraising and storytelling for good reasons. When you know important information about the target audience you want to communicate with, you are more likely to reach that audience and motivate them towards certain goals (like making a donation or signing up for a program). That is why I recommend every non-profit invest the time and resources into building an audience persona.
In this post you'll learn the basics of what an audience persona is and how to build one for your non-profit.
What is an Audience Persona?
An audience persona -- sometimes referred to as an audience profile -- is a summary of key information about a target audience your organization is trying to reach. Brands of all shapes and sizes can benefit from having an audience persona. Ideally, once you have your audience persona in hand you should use it as a filter for decisions about your communications. I like to ask the following question when I work on communications -- based on what I know in our audience persona, is this piece optimized for the audience?
The bottom line is that an audience persona can save you time and make you a more effective communicator.
Side note -- One of the common questions I get asked about audience personas is, "Should my non-profit have only one audience persona?" I find most organizations have more than one audience persona, but they do take work to build. That's why I recommend starting with one and going from there.
Three Steps to Building an Audience Persona
Let's get to the good stuff -- actually building your audience persona! I typically follow a three step process when building audience personas. Those steps include:
1. Identifying the target audience
2. Gathering information about the target audience
3. Building out the audience persona
1. Identify the Target Audience
Sometimes this step is a chicken or the egg type problem for non-profits. How do you know who the target audience is if you've never done this before? To help you avoid this endless loop of questions, here's what I recommend -- brainstorm a list of all your current and potential audiences.
Here's what a sample list might look like:
>> Current and prospective program participants
>> Community and government partners
Your list might look a little different, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what audiences you could include on your list.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, it can be tempting to take on building profiles for all of the audiences as once. Do not give into the temptation! Pick just one audience (for now) that you'll build a persona for.
2. Gathering Information about the Target Audience
If you've ever read other articles about audience personas, you've undoubtedly seen that most advise you to gather up all the demographic information possible about that audience. This can include: age, location, household income, ethnicity, family status, etc.
But demographic information is just one piece of the pie. You'll also want to gather some psychographic information about your target audience. Psychographic information encompasses things like: religious beliefs, political views, world views and values, and so on. I've personally found this information to be immensely useful for non-profit communications.
If you're not sure where to start with gathering information about your target audience, check out the in-depth post I wrote on audience research for non-profits.
3. Building Out the Audience Persona
By gathering lots of information about your target audience in Step 2, you're now ready to actually create your audience persona. This is also the step where a lot of non-profits get tripped up. After all, how do you decide what makes it into the persona?
Here's my guiding principle when building an audience persona -- I select information that is representative of the biggest swath of the audience.
Inherently, this means that your audience persona won't perfectly represent every single person in your audience. That's okay! It's not meant to. But it should be representative of a decent majority of your audience.
When building an audience persona, most people will opt to create a fictitious person to represent their audience. Here's an example of what that can look like from Make a Wish. (image source)
Your persona needs more than an age and a name. I typically like to create one to two page summary of who the audience persona is. You'll want to include all the relevant demographic information as well as psychographic information. Most importantly, you'll want to be clear about what that persona's goal is in their relationship with your non-profit. For example, a donor's goal is to donate and a prospective program participant's goal is to enroll in a program. You may also choose to include notes about the strategy for reaching and engaging this persona based on the goal.
That's an overview of the process for building an audience persona for your non-profit. As you can likely tell, it can be an involved process but that doesn't mean it has to be complicated. Given all the data and research you may collect, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to make of it all. If you find yourself feeling this way, I'll leave you with this piece of advice. Audience personas a meant to be living documents. Meaning it doesn't have to be perfect. It will evolve and change as you learn new information and refine your understanding of your audience. I hope that helps you take the pressure off a little bit!
If you have questions about building audience personas, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
Use your audience persona to create communications content that resonate with your audience. The Monthly Content Planner Kit can help!
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