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Three Ways to Define Your Target Audience

Resource Center - Foundation

By Kivi Leroux Miller

(July 6, 2010) When nonprofit marketing and fundraising programs fail, organizations too frequently blame the tactics. "We tried an email newsletter, but no one read it." "We sent out a direct mail fundraising letter, but it didn't raise much money."

Closer examination of those tactics often reveals that the audience was poorly defined and the message was too generic. If the hammer doesn't hit the nail on the head, take a look at the skills of the carpenter, not the hammer.

Marketing and fundraising that tries to reach the general public, or everyone, actually reaches very few people (It's sometimes called spray-and-pray marketing). The general public includes newborns and elders, rich and poor, jet-setters and the homeless.  You don't want to reach all of those people, and you couldn't even if you wanted to. So stop trying, and start focusing on the people who really do matter most to your success.

Here are three ways to start defining your target audience.

1.  By Basic Demographics. Are most of your target audience men or women? How old are they? Do they live or work in certain place? Are most a particular ethnic group? Is income or education level relevant? Also consider factors that define how they spend their time. Where are they, and what are they doing there, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or on weekends? What is their family status? Do they rent or own? Does this group of people tend to have strong likes or dislikes?

Answering questions like these will help you narrow down the general public into more specific groups that you can more easily target with appropriate messaging.

2. By Their Behaviors. What is this group of people doing or not doing related to your cause? Think about your calls to action. Are they doing the right thing, but inconsistently or not in the "right" way?

Let's say you want businesses to donate products to your fundraising auction. Your committee brainstormed a list of 50 local businesses to ask. To more effectively target this list by behavior, you could separate out the businesses that have donated auction items in previous years for those who have not. Or could separate out those who you know have donated auction items to other nonprofits, but not to yours, and customize your messaging accordingly.

3. By the Stages of Change. If you are trying to convince people to modify their behaviors in significant ways (e.g. to become a reliable annual donor), the Stages of Change may be a helpful way to break down your target audience into smaller groups. The Stages of Change, known more formally as the Transtheoretical Model in health psychology, is often used in social marketing.

The first stage is Pre-contemplation, where the person doesn't yet acknowledge that a problem or issue exists.  Next is Contemplation, where he acknowledges the problem or is aware of the issue, but has plenty of reasons why he can't address it. Preparation comes next, where he says, "Okay, I'll give it a try." This is the also known as the testing phase. Next is the Action phase, where he is ready to do it and makes that change. The final stage is Maintenance and relapse prevention, where he works to make the behavior a habit.

Here's how you can apply to this model to defining your fundraising audience. Let's say you are trying to maximize end-of-year giving. The fundraising letter that you send to someone who has donated to your organization every year at Christmas for the last ten years should be quite different from the letter you are sending to someone who is brand-new to your mailing list. They are at different stages. The first donor is in the "Maintenance" stage because giving to you is already a habit. The new person on your list is not yet a donor. He is probably still in the "Preparation" phase, so your messaging needs to take that into account.

Focusing on specific groups of people, and not the general public, is a sure-fire way to improve your fundraising.

Nonprofit consultant and trainer Kivi Leroux Miller is the author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause. For more information go to www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com. This article originally appeared in the blog Step By Step Fundraising.



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