An Easy Guide to Creating Nuanced Customer Personas

Whether you’re a nonprofit or work with nonprofits, you know that not all of your donors, clients, or customers are alike. However, tailoring your communication to each individual supporter can be extremely costly, challenging, time-consuming, and simply unfeasible.

That’s where customer personas come in. Customer personas are crucial for efficiently automating and personalizing your branding and active marketing strategies—from updating your organization’s voice to looking for new clients to launching a new program, service, or product.

At the heart of your customer personas are your supporter data. To make the process easier, prepare to spend some time getting to know the intricacies of your database and other available tools. However, before we dive into the steps to create customer personas for your organization, let’s first define the customer persona in a nonprofit context. 

What’s a Customer Persona? 

Customer personas (also known as customer profiles) are essential for nonprofits defining their ideal donors, volunteers, and clients, as well as for businesses defining their target customers. Because of this, a persona can take many different forms, and no two customer personas will look the same.

Personas are written descriptions of characters representing key groups in your target market. Since personas are meant to be composite sketches of each segment of your audience—not of every individual client— they should be based on detailed analyses of more than one person in each group.

Steps to Building Nuanced Personas

Now that we have a shared definition, let’s look at how to build personas for your organization. Instead of creating vague or broad personas that lead to unhelpful generalizations, your customer personas should be specific and nuanced enough to help you make impactful, reliable decisions.

As much as these personas will help your organization in your marketing and branding efforts, they will also inevitably lead to a better, more streamlined, and more positive customer, client, and donor experience

Step 1: Define Your Goals

Before building your personas, work with your team and key stakeholders to identify why you’re developing personas and what you hope to achieve in the process. For example, your goals might include:

  • Increasing revenue from your matching gifts program.
  • Creating a brand identity that helps spread awareness and drive revenue.
  • Offering targeted product and service recommendations to existing clients.
  • Adapting impactful messaging that connects with a new audience.

Going forward, use your goals to guide your decisions and the profiles you ultimately make. As you can better see and assess your data, update these goals as necessary. If you identify a new opportunity—and you likely will—don’t be afraid to redirect your goals in that direction.

Step 2: Clean Your Data

Practicing data hygiene, the process of cleaning and updating your database, is a necessary step for creating meaningful customer personas. Before making these personas—or even considering what personas you want to create—you should ensure that the data in your database is accurate, complete, and up-to-date.

When cleaning your database, you should: 

  • Standardize mailing addresses and abbreviations.
  • Verify contact information, including email addresses and phone numbers.
  • Suppress data from contacts on Do Not Mail and Do Not Call lists.
  • Merge or purge duplicate records in your database.
  • Group together records with intersecting points.

If your database is inaccurate or incomplete, you’re likely to develop similarly inaccurate profiles, leading you to create a brand or marketing campaign that simply doesn’t connect in the way you expect.

Step 3: Enhance Your Data

After cleaning your data, you may find gaps in your database preventing you from painting a more complete picture of your audience. You can use a third-party data provider to automatically supplement your existing data with information that will help you reach your initial goals.

For example, if your goal is to use personas to improve your matching gifts program,  Fundraising Letter’s guide to employer appends suggests appending your data with the following information:

  • Employer name
  • Job title
  • Demographic information
  • Matching gift information
  • Contact information

On the other hand, if you’re entering a new market, you may find that you’re missing data on an entire segment. In that case, you could append your database with a completely new list of clients or customers based on specific characteristics, such as their income, education, location, or marital status.

Step 4: Create Customer Segments

Next, put your audience’s information into segments, or groups, based on their relevant qualities. These segments will form the core of your customer personas. You might choose to create segments based on a combination of the following data points:

  • Purchase history
  • Volunteer history
  • Event history
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Education 
  • Income
  • Email click-throughs
  • Religion
  • Location

Segmenting your data allows you to identify important commonalities between individuals and eventually assign them to relevant personas. Consider pairing this step with follow-up surveys and interviews to better understand each segment’s motivations, preferences, and interests.

Step 5: Write Your Personas

Finally, draft your personas! Using your customer segments, create approximately three to five main profiles for your various audiences. These should include information about their demographics, behavioral patterns, and motivations, alongside your strategies to engage them. 

Generally, your personas should include the following sections:

  • Summary: What is their complete demographic information? 
  • Use Case: How do they interact with your organization currently?
  • Previous Solutions: What were they doing before, and why didn’t it work?
  • Benefits: What are the main benefits they get from your organization?
  • Conversion Trigger: Why do they seek out your services/products?
  • Conversion Process: What’s the typical process they go through to commit to your organization?

Once you’ve written your customer personas, share your drafts with other departments and stakeholders and revise and tailor the personas based on their feedback. Then, use them to guide your marketing efforts and build your brand.

As demographics and goals change, continue to revise your personas over time and update your brand and marketing strategies based on these changes. Likely, you won’t convince many customers, donors, volunteers, or even clients to commit to your organization in your first outreach effort, so don’t get discouraged. According to AccuData’s guide to direct marketing for nonprofits, it can take upwards of 18-20 touches to convert a new lead. 

While it may take time, with nuanced customer personas built on a solid foundation of data, you’ll be in the best position for long-term success.