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Chapter 4 Finding Your Target Audience

Now that you have the start of a strategy, it’s easier to know whom you’ll want to target with your message. While we all would like to think our product, service, or mission is for everyone, focusing on “everyone” is a sure way to drive your nonprofit into bankruptcy.

So ask yourself: who are you trying to reach? You did some of this work in the last chapter. But the better you understand your audience, the better you’ll be able to communicate with them in a way they find engaging. We’re going to define that more in this chapter.

In a traditional business, this would probably be answered by describing your perfect customer. Is your perfect customer a man or a woman? What age? How much are they making? Are they married or single? With children or not? Are they employees or entrepreneurs? Do they enjoy life or are they miserable? Where do they hang out online? Where to they hang out offline?

If you’re a nonprofit this might be a bit more challenging. You might have your perfect “client,” your perfect “donor,” your perfect “board member,” and your perfect “employee.” They all are probably using social media. Take the time to jot down the specific characteristics that make them “perfect.” Then choose the one that best fits your strategy.

Toss Out Your Assumptions

Your answer isn’t always in the place you think it is! When I ran the fundraising department at a small, rural hospital, I researched the demographics of our service area. Maine was the oldest state in the nation (our residents had the highest average age than any other state). And our city was the fastest greying part of the state. Naturally, I wrote my fundraising appeals to a WWII widow in her 80’s. I taped her picture to my monitor and called her Edith.

This worked fine in print, but it wasn’t easy to figure out a social media strategy until I researched the demographics of our donors. I couldn’t believe it when I found out that our typical donor was a Baby Boomer and just as likely to be a man as a woman! Now I started writing to “Pat.” And I could more clearly see how to extend that print “voice” into social media.

They Are On The Web

Chances are really good that your perfect customer is on the web. At a recent social media conference, Sarah Hines of Shines & Jecker Labs gave these statistics:

  • Ÿ 78% of Americans use the internet daily
  • Ÿ 48% of Americans have a profile on a social media site (80% of active internet users have one)
  • Ÿ 57% of woman use the internet daily
  • Ÿ 60% of consumers check websites first 30% check social media first

Just to further build the case that your donors and supporters are online, some other Neilsen statistics http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/2012/ says:

Around half of social media users access social media from their phone or tablet device.

17% of consumers’ PC time is spent on Facebook.

Time spent on PCs and smartphones was up 21% with app time more than doubling as more smartphone users entered the market.

More than half of people aged 25-34 use social networking in the office, more than any other age group.

70% of active adult social network users also shop online—12% more than the general internet population.

Internet users above 55 years old have doubled their mobile usage/intake of social media content in the past year.

Sarah Hines suggests considering these things as you try to understand your audience:


Where are they based? Can you give them local insider tips that they’ll understand? Are they international? English-speaking? Multi-lingual?


Determine what types of things they like. Then use these keywords in social media sites to see what other interests and sites might be similar.


Are they in charge of an organization? A department? You’ll want to talk more formally to people who may be trying to show your work to their boss. But in many situations a less formal “voice” may be more appropriate.


Where do they look for authoritative information? Are you establishing a presence there?

Life Priorities

What do they value? Family? Religion? Community Service? Money? These are all critical in helping you shape your story.

Emotional State

Are they stressed when they seek you out? Angry? Hurting? Happy?


It will behoove you to get as clear a sense as possible about their ages, their level of education, their salary, and their family stats.

That might seem incredibly overwhelming. And it is. Fortunately, you can find this information in many places. You could look at your current audience or customers to get much of this information. You could look at your competitors or similar organizations to see who they’re targeting. And you can look at the benefit you add to people’s lives. This is already in your marketing literature or the outcomes you measure. The changes you are actually producing in people’s lives can provide good information on your audience.

Other Tools To Help With Research

Katya Andresen says one way to do quick, effective research is find out what magazines and periodicals your audience is reading. Then get as many of each as you can and pull out all the advertisements. Stick the ads up on a wall in your office, and look for the common themes and images. Companies advertising in magazines are often spending millions of dollars on customer research, finding out what moves people to action. You can use this technique to benefit from their research.

Google is a great way to search for your audience. Three free tools can give you loads of actionable information on your audience: Google Alerts, Google AdPlanner, and Google Analytics. As you identify interests and common keywords, you can set up Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) to let you know when those keywords are being used.

To make sure you’re using the right keywords, check out Google AdPlanner (www.google.com/adplanner). You can research keywords without having to set up ads. Sarah Hines from Shines & Jecker Labs, pointed out that the words you think work for you might be vastly different from what people are actually searching on. She gave the example that employees of the Fort William State Park in Maine might try to make their information easy to find for people who search on “Fort William State Park.” But doing some research may show that there are 20 million more searches for “Portland Headlight.” Obviously, it would serve them well to make sure they use “Portland Headlight” in their keywords and marketing, too!

Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool, also free. You put a code on your website, and it can give you easy to read reports on a wide variety of data. You can see your overall visits, page views, and the average time spent on the site. You can see where in the world people who visit your site come from. You can see what types of web browsers and mobile devices they’re using. You can see how people are getting to your site (directly, through a search engine, or from other sites) and you can see what pages they’re finding. You can see what keywords they’re using. You can even drill down to see if people from Facebook spend more time on your site than people coming from Twitter or from a search engine. I said it was a powerful tool!

Some additional tools include:

  • www.PewInternet.org: The Pew Internet and American Life Project provides a huge amount of well researched information (like what people do daily and trends in usage).
  • http://2010.Census.gov/: The census provides a wealth of information which can even be searched by ZIP code.
  • www.QuantCast.com: Sarah Hines said you can enter your audience into QuantCast and they’ll show you similar groups. Or you can enter a website your audience likes, and they can tell you the demographics of people who frequent that site.

Final Thoughts On Targeting

As you’re doing this work, it’s important to ask yourself “Are there enough people to fit your criteria?” If there aren’t, it is good to open up your criteria a bit. But not too much. It’s better to be communicating with a niche than with “the general public.” A marketing truism is that if you’re marketing to everyone, you’re marketing to no one. You really do need to target a niche.

Another question is can they afford to give to you?  Or can you afford to steward their gifts? Most of us are in nonprofits because we want to help. But we can find that some donors or clients or employees that we do “favors” for are the most time-consuming and least grateful. No matter how rich a donor prospect is, if they’re not giving, you might not be able to afford continuing to pursue them.

When I say you might not be able to afford pursuing them, I’m not talking about people’s innate worth. Everyone is valuable simply because they are human. But our nonprofits have limited resources, and we are accountable for how we steward those limited resources. Steward them well.


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