7 Steps to Define Your Nonprofit’s Target Audience

Donor Communication, Fundraising, Intermediate

By Jeremy Reis

The first step in any successful marketing or fundraising campaign is understanding your audience. You can’t craft an effective message or choose the right channels if you don’t know who you’re trying to reach. And yet, so many nonprofits make the mistake of not taking the time to really define their target audience. As a result, their campaigns fall flat and they have trouble meeting their goals.

If you’re not sure how to define your nonprofit’s target audience, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Luckily, there are some tried-and-true methods you can use to figure out who you should be targeting with your fundraising efforts. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through seven steps you can take to identify and segment your nonprofit’s target audience. By the end, you’ll have a better sense of who you should be talking to and how you can best reach them.

1. Know Your Mission Statement

Your mission statement is the foundation of your organization; it should guide all of your decisions, including whom you choose to target as a potential donor. Start by reading your mission statement carefully and brainstorming a list of qualities that someone would need to have in order to be interested in supporting your work. For example, if your mission is to “end homelessness in America,” someone who cares about that issue would make an ideal donor.

2. Define Your Goal

Before you start trying to identify your target audience, it’s important that you first take a step back and think about what your goal is. What are you hoping to achieve with your fundraising campaign? Once you have a clear goal in mind, it will be easier to identify the people who can help you achieve it. For example, if your goal is to increase donations by 20%, then your target audience might be people who have donated to your organization in the past or those who share similar values to your organization.

3. Look at Your Existing Data

One of the best ways to identify potential target audiences is to look at the data you already have about your current and past donors. Pull up your donor database and take a look at things like age, location, gender, occupation, and interests. This information can give you some clues about who might be most receptive to your fundraising message. For instance, if you notice that a lot of your donors are teachers, then educators might be a good target audience for your next campaign.

4. Consider Your Channels

The channels you use to reach potential donors can also help narrow down your target audience. For example, if you’re planning on using social media as part of your campaign, then it makes sense to target individuals who are active on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, if you’re going to be relying mostly on direct mailings, then targeting people who live in a certain area or have a certain income level might make more sense.

5. Conduct Market Research

Once you’ve developed one or more donor persona(s), it’s time to start doing some market research to see if there is indeed a group of people out there who fit that description—and whether or not they’re likely to support your nonprofit’s work financially. There are several ways to conduct market research; surveys and focus groups are two popular options. You can also look for secondary data sources that provide information on potential donors; for example, the Pew Research Center regularly releases reports on various demographics within the US population. Conducting market research will not only help confirm that your donor persona(s) are accurate—it will also give you valuable insights into how best to reach them. For example, if you find out that most of your target donors prefer to get their news online rather than through traditional channels like television or newspapers, you can focus your marketing efforts accordingly.

6. Develop Personas

Once you have an idea of the type of person who would be interested in supporting your nonprofit, it’s time to start getting specific. This is where developing donor personas comes in. Donor personas are fictional characters that represent your ideal donors; they help you visualize whom you’re trying to reach and understand what motivates them.

To develop a persona, start by coming up with basic demographic information, such as age, gender, location, occupation, and income level. Then, add some personality traits and interests. For example, if you’re trying to reach millennial women who care about social justice issues, your persona might look something like this:

Name: Sarah
Age: 28
Gender: Female
Location: New York City
Occupation: Social worker
Income level: $50,000-$60,000
Personality traits: Compassionate, determined, outspoken
Interests: Social justice issues, volunteering, travel

7. Test and Refine

Once you’ve defined a few potential target audiences, it’s time to start testing out different messages and approaches until you find something that works. Send out email campaigns or direct mailers targeting different segments of your list and see which ones generate the most response rates. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t work so that you can refine your approach over time.


The bottom line is this: without taking the time to carefully define their target audiences, nonprofits will find it difficult—if not impossible—to achieve their fundraising goals. By following the steps outlined above, however, organizations can narrow down their focus and craft more effective campaigns that resonated with potential donors and drive real results.


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