When it comes to fundraising, there are a lot of mistakes one can make.

One can neglect to build a relationship with a past donor which usually results in one-time support. One can forget that a donor may have more to give than just money (expertise, time, network connections, etc.)

The biggest issue that I find in individual fundraising is that fundraising professionals do not take the time to think about what their target donor may look like. They jump right into asking for donations from anyone that will listen without taking time to think about the people they are asking for money from.

The best way to do this is to create donor avatars for the ideal person (or people) you want supporting your organization.

In the Donor List Challenge, I devote a whole lesson (lesson 5!) and activity to identifying and creating donor avatars that your organization can use to target its fundraising efforts. As such, I am simply going to copy and paste an excerpt from the free course to show you the benefit of defining avatars for your donors!

If you are interested in taking the free Donor List Challenge, you can sign up and start the course RIGHT NOW by clicking the button below.

Avatars (Not The James Cameron Kind!)

The idea of customer avatars or customer profiles is a concept that is familiar to many in the for-profit world. These profiles define the core characteristics of customers or users, detailing their demographics, along with what interests & drives them. By grouping people into boxes of similar characteristics, the company can push messaging to them that will be more likely to resonate.

This creates a feeling of connection and familiarity with the brand, ultimately resulting in their brand coming to mind when determining what kind of toothpaste to buy (for example). For-profit corporations spend oodles of money testing their messaging and branding to find what their avatars are looking for in a product and what messaging resonates with them. We as nonprofits can do that too!

Today we are applying yesterday’s segmentation idea to creating donor avatar profiles. You may ask, “what is an avatar profile?”


The Avatar Profile

A donor profile serves as a rich description of who you are aiming to engage with your messaging. The clearer this description is, the more targeted the messaging, resulting in a more meaningful connection with that donor.

Additionally, the more real the avatar feels, the easier it will be for you to relate to that person. It is always easier to write to and sympathize with someone you know rather than someone you don’t. You move from thinking from them as “The Donor” to thinking about them as the cute little lady living at home with her cats, sitting in a nice chair knitting a blanket and cooing at them while they play and meow back. Nice right?

While the characteristics you draft for your avatars may not have to do with magical powers or elves, they could include the following:

  • Avatar Name (this isn’t something that you will make public to your donors, but it should be very descriptive of the avatar so you know exactly which type of person you are referencing)
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Personal background
  • Income
  • Children
  • Personal Interests/Hobby’s
  • Education Level
  • Technology Literacy
  • Gift Goal

Remember our discussion about the dog owner and cat lady? Their avatars might be:

Rugged man hiking with his dog

  • Avatar Name: Puppy Dad
  • Avatar Description: A young business guy who spends all day working and comes home to a bouncing and excited new pup! He day dreams at work about his weekend hiking trips and how he would love to bring his new dog along with him
  • Age: 18-32
  • Gender: Male
  • Income: $60,000-$90,000 per year
  • New Pet Owner (Puppy)
  • Personal Interests: Hiking, Outdoors, Weekend Warrior Activities
  • Gift Goal: Financial Donation
Woman taking care of many cats

  • Avatar Name: Cute Little Cat Lady
  • Avatar Description: A cute older woman who sits in a nice chair knitting a blanket and cooing at her many cats as they play and meow sweetly around her.
  • Age: 65+
  • Gender: Female
  • Income: Pension
  • Life long pet owner
  • Pet Preference: Cats
  • Current number of pets: 4 (all cats)
  • Personal Interests: Reading, crocheting
  • Technology Literacy: Minimal
  • Gift Goal: Volunteering
Notice that there are some different characteristics that matter to our avatars. Technology literacy is important for the Cute Little Cat Lady but we could assume that a younger person will be more adept with technology. Defining this characteristic reminds us that we need to think about where this prospect is in real life.

To find donors, you need to know where they are first. Is a prospect in our Cute Little Cat Lady avatar going to be more likely to hang out in Pinterest and Instagram forums about cats or are they going to more likely be a part of crochet groups or book of the month clubs? By defining these avatars now, we can make an educated first guess on where to find those prospects AND what content they are going to respond to. That gives us an edge on creating content that will appeal to them as a way to get them involved with us.

For example, knowing that the Daddy’s Little Pup avatars enjoy hiking and getting away from the city on the weekend, we can create an introductory event such as a presentation on the joys of hiking with your puppy, how to train your dog to go off leash while hiking, and where to find local parks and trails that are dog friendly.

So What’s Next?

Now that you know why having donor avatars is important and how to design them, you should absolutely sign up to take the rest of the Donor List Challenge to find out how you can use these avatars to target your messaging, track donor engagement, and design an opportunity to collect information to be used in fundraising efforts later on.

Remember, this course is free, so there is really no risk to taking it!

Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.
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