Donor Personas: How to Identify Your Unique Donor Audience

Do you ever go grocery shopping and see a product that feels like it was created for you? For me, it’s Oatly. And for Oatly, that is on purpose; I am exactly the customer they have in mind. 

You see, I am a female in my late 20’s-early 30’s, living in an urban area, vegetarian, eco-conscious, middle class, and have been actively seeking plant based alternatives to milk that taste good and are kinder to animals and the planet. 

Customer personas (like mine above) are not just for marketing professionals, they are also incredibly beneficial for nonprofits seeking to understand who their donors are, why they give, how they like to be communicated with, and what their barriers to giving are. Let’s dive in and explore how creating donor personas can help us engage and resonate with our target audience better, so that in turn, we can create more impact in our areas of work. 

Why Do Donor Personas Matter?

The process of creating donor personas is important because it helps you truly understand and connect with your supporters on a personal level. It’s like getting to know a friend – the better we understand them, the more meaningful and authentic our interactions become. 

When we develop donor personas, we’re essentially painting detailed portraits of our ideal supporters. This involves looking at demographics, motivations, and preferences. It’s not just about age and location; it’s about understanding why someone cares about the cause, what drives them, and what barriers might be preventing them from contributing.


Donor Persona Examples (credit: Kindful)

The more we understand about our donors, the better we can communicate with them in a way that resonates. This ultimately results in better donor acquisition as well as stronger, more genuine partnerships with greater retention

How to Create a Donor Persona

So how do you create a donor persona? Here are three simple steps to get your started!

1. Research

The first step is finding as much information as you can from your existing analytics. There are so many tools available to us in this day and age to access some really meaningful data about our current donor base. For instance:

  • Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs): help us track donor interactions and giving histories.
  • Website analytics: help us track donation page interactions and web traffic.
  • Social media platforms: help us gauge who and what our audience is engaging with.
  • Email marketing analytics: help us track open rate, click-through, and donation conversions.
  • Event participation data: helps track donor attendance, engagement, and feedback from both online and in-person events. 

That is a lot–maybe even an overwhelming amount–of data right at your fingertips! So, start by picking a few meaningful data points for your organization, let’s say: social media and email marketing analytics. From there, you can analyze the data. 

For example, let’s say you learn that your most engaged Instagram followers are aged 25-34, female and live in an urban area. However, you find that those who open and donate through email marketing are aged 40-60, female and live in a suburban area. 

This gives you a great place to start as you segment your donors based on shared characteristics such as age, interests, giving preferences, and motivations.

2. Segmentation 

There are many ways to segment data, and not every way will result in a helpful donor persona. Take time to think through which data points will be the most beneficial. For instance, if you are looking to create a donor persona for an online, recurring donor, you may segment your supporters based on motivations, interests, or giving preferences. This will allow you to make sure you are creating content that speaks to those donors, as well as providing easy ways for them to give. 

Some ways to segment donors include (but are not limited to):

  • Demographics: This includes age, gender, occupation, and location. 
  • Donation History: Identify segments of donors by frequency of gifts, amount of giving, or those who may need to be reengaged. 
  • Engagement Levels: See how different donors engage through different mediums like event attendance, social media, campaign participation. 
  • Communication Preferences: Which groups of donors like to be communicated with via email, social media, direct mail, or phone calls?
  • Interests: Within your cause, what are donors particularly passionate about? For instance, if you are an animal welfare nonprofit, are your donors interested in neutering, rehoming, rescue, etc?
  • Motivations: How are your donors moved to give? Is it by seeing their impact, because of a personal connection, or something else?
  • Giving Preferences: Who prefers to give via mobile wallet, check, recurring online donation, cash, etc?

After choosing a few donor segments that you’d like to focus on, you can take it a step further by sending out a survey to this group to gather even more information. 

3. Crafting A Survey

Surveys are not always necessary, but they are incredibly helpful in gathering data and really deep diving into your different donor segments. This can also be an opportunity to engage with your dedicated supporters and thank them for all they do to champion your cause.

Your survey may include questions around:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, location, occupation 
  • Background: Why are they interested in your cause and what led them to get involved?
  • Psychographics: Interests, personality, lifestyle, values, motivations to give
  • Behavior: Donation history, how they give, and how they like to receive your content
  • Perceived Impact: How are they hoping their donation is being used and what difference do they feel they are making?
  • Barriers To Giving: What is preventing them from giving, or giving more?

These questions can give you the insightings into things like what motivates people to give monthly, how your donors engage with your cause, what age group, gender, and occupation is most likely to support your nonprofit, and how you can communicate with them better. 

There are a few things to consider when crafting your survey to ensure you get the responses you desire and you respect your donors’ time. 

  1. Only ask questions you cannot find the answers too. You can gather some data (especially demographic data) from other analytics. People like surveys that are short and sweet.
  2. When sending out your survey, include the estimated time in the subject line of the email or social media post for better engagement. For instance, “Take our 5 min survey to help us improve our donor experience.”
  3. Add a little incentive! Consider offering exclusive content, a VIP ticket to your next fundraising event, or an entry into a raffle. Adding a little something special can increase survey responses dramatically.
  4. Maybe pick up the phone and call a few of your donors! These one-on-one chats can produce some really valuable insights, and it makes your donors feel seen and worthwhile. Use it as an opportunity to thank them for their commitment as well as gather important data to help your overall fundraising efforts. 

Persona Development 

Now that you have a lot of really insightful data, it is time to create the avatar of who your ideal donor is. Let’s explore an example.

Let’s imagine you are the Director of Development for an animal welfare nonprofit. You have just gone through the three steps of researching, segmenting, and surveying your donors; now you are ready to craft one of your donor personas. 

Pro Tip: It is really helpful (and fun!) to give the different donor personas names 

Here is Animal Advocate Annie:

  • Age: 35
  • Gender: Female
  • Location: Urban or suburban area
  • Occupation: Marketing professional
  • Income: Middle to upper-middle class


From your survey and interview data you found:

Annie has always had a deep love for animals and has grown up with pets. She currently lives in a pet-friendly community and owns a dog and a cat. Annie is active in her involvement at local animal welfare initiatives. She also used to volunteer at a nearby animal shelter in her free time.


Using psychographic data from your survey you found: 

Annie is passionate about animal rights and welfare and believes in the importance of adopting rescue animals. She wants to make a positive impact on the lives of animals and needs. She values transparency and will only support organizations with a clear mission and measurable outcomes. 

Communication Preferences:

Both social media analytics and donation history/giving preference segmentation helped you discover: 

Annie is active on social media, especially Instagram. She mainly gives by clicking the donate button in the bio link or on Instagram stories. Her preference is to give with her mobile wallet in as few steps as possible. Knowing the impact of her donation moves her to action. Tools like donation tiers or compelling content that clearly exemplifies how her money will be used really speak to her.  

Giving Behavior:

Data analytics alongside donation history/giving preference segmentation and your survey provided this important insight: 

Annie is already making small, regular monthly donations to multiple animal welfare organizations. She prefers to support initiatives that focus on spaying/neutering, adoption programs, and education.

Barriers to Donation:

Your more in-depth survey and a few phone conversations helped you discover: 

Some of her largest barriers to donating include lack of transparency in how her money will be used and clunky donation platforms that require a lot of steps. 

Engagement Opportunities:

All of the persona development tools (research, segmentation and surveys) helped you craft and refine this crucial insight:

Annie is most engaged on Instagram, although she does read personalized email updates that contain success stories. She does not have a lot of free time. Therefore she prefers to give money online rather than attend an in-person event or volunteer.

Now that we know who Animal Advocate Annie is, we can introduce her to our fundraising team and start to craft narratives that speak to “her.” By using storytelling techniques in your giving campaign like centering her as the hero, or providing clear and compelling information about how she can make a genuine change, your organization can truly make her feel seen and understood. 

Utilizing Donor Personas In Fundraising Strategies

Not every donor is going to look like Animal Advocate Annie, which is why it is important to understand who your donor personas are, and how they fit into your fundraising strategy. 

Annie for instance is active on social media, and gives from that platform. This is helpful to understand because you can start tailoring your social media content to speak to her. For instance, Annie enjoys stories of how her money is making a difference, but hates barriers to giving. So making giving directly from Instagram seamless will be important for this particular persona. This is great information if you are making Instagram Ads as well to make sure that it is money well spent. 

Crafting Multiple Personas

Perhaps you find you have another persona who represents another large segment of your donor base, Dog Loving Darcy, who prefers to attend in person events, volunteer, and donate via check one large amount each year. For her, you may consider a more personal fundraising approach including phone calls, handwritten letters and donation/volunteer information sent both digitally and physically. 


Dog Lover Darcy Donor Persona

By customizing your fundraising strategy to fit your different donor personas, your organization is able to enhance donor commitment and retention because you are engaging in ways that speak directly to your supporters. It also helps you use your budget wisely as you know which strategies work for which donor segment. So maybe you only need to mail 500 rather than 5,000 printed donation forms every year.

It Is A Win/Win!

As nonprofit professionals, we could not do what we do, or create the change we desire without our incredible donors. It is essential to invest the time and energy to understand who is giving, so that your fundraising strategies are truly effective and resonate with the hearts and values of those who champion your cause. By crafting and embracing our donors’ personas, we not only deepen our understanding of our supporters but also pave the way for more empathetic, personalized connection. It is a win/win! 

Using Donor Personas with AI

If you find yourself stuck trying to create content for your different donor segments let technology help you (hint: AI can help create avatars for your personas)! You can feed ChatGPT a prompt with your specific donor persona in mind and it can help you create content tailored to them. For instance, you feed ChatGPT Animal Advocate Annie’s persona and ask it to write you some social media content inviting them to donate monthly. That’s what I call working smarter, not harder. 

Download our ChatGPT prompt guide for free here: