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Monday, January 22, 2018

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Create Personas to Bridge the Gap with Target Audiences
Nancy Schwartz

October, 2008

Before your organization embarks on any communications planning or implementing a campaign, it's vital to understand the interests, perspectives, needs and goals of your base and other audiences, and their behavioral patterns. That's the only way to connect your nonprofit's goals -- be they building awareness about a new zoning issue that threatens the safety of children at a nearby school, engaging advocates to contact their state senators on a green space protection issue or motivating registration for a new parenting training -- with what's important to your audiences. Personas can help bridge the gap.

Traditionally, personas have been used for design of computer hardware and software, particularly Web site usability. Over recent years, marketers (including those in the nonprofit arena) are putting them to work for high-impact marketing planning.

Here's how your nonprofit can put personas to work to strengthen relationships the folks you need to engage:

How Can Personas Help My Organization Connect with Our Target Audiences?

Personas are hypothetical "stand ins" for your nonprofit's actual audiences. They enable communications and fundraising folks (and that includes planners, writers, designers and others) to stand in their audiences' shoes. They let your org shape campaigns around audience needs and interests. And you'll find far greater success designing a communications plan or a program's marketing message that works for a "specific person, rather than trying to plan or write for the hazily- defined needs of many or the typical demographically-defined audience segment.

Is Persona Just Another Word for Market Segment?

No, but that's a common objection you may hear from the marketing traditionalists within your organization. Market segmentation is a great tool for identifying the groups of people you are trying to reach, and why. But market segmentation can't shape your marketing messages or choice of strategies.

Assume you know that 33% of women aged 25-40 are interested in supporting breast cancer research, and that messages and graphic design are key elements affecting their giving decisions. Well, that's a good start. But personas add a great deal of richness.

A persona will enable your organization to craft the right campaign to reach Miriam, age 36, who wants to give to breast cancer today but is concerned that she doesn't know enough about how her money will be used if she gives to your nonprofit. She wants to be assured by information showing how contributions are used.

How Do We Create Personas that Work?

Although personas are fictional, they must be defined with rigor and exactness. Ideally they are based on some understanding of real audiences. It's easiest to create accurate personas if your organization has some idea of demographics and, even better, data on habits and interests. When you base personas on audience research, you'll ensure that the personas truly represent your audiences.

But remember that personas can't stand alone. Your nonprofit's marketing goals must be the overall guide for your communications planning process.

Personas are just one component of the diverse audience research strategies so crucial to the success of your nonprofit marketing agenda.

 Learn about others here: Getting Great Audience and Stakeholder Feedback, at Little Cost (Case Study) PersonasTaking in what current and potential audiences are saying about your organization is another useful, easy and affordable way to get to know your community. More here:

What Does a Persona Look Like?

Here's a sample persona checklist. The precise details you'll want to include depend on your organization's marketing. Are you aiming to increase use of a new health care clinic, motivating volunteers for your mentoring program or build the number of visitors to your nature preserve? No matter your goals, here's what you'll want to include in your personas:

  • A one to two page narrative profile, for each persona.
  • A few fictional details about the persona's life – an interest or a habit – that makes each person unique and memorable. When you start here, the hypothetical constructs spring to life.
  • Brief outline of a daily work day or day at home (depends on who you are trying to reach), including specific details, likes and dislikes.
  • Name, age, photo and personal information.
  • Work environments if you're trying to reach professionals, rather than individuals, including length of time in the job, professional development habits (if marketing services such as training for social workers on public benefits), information- seeking habits and favorite resources, personal and professional goals, colleagues with whom the persona works most closely, etc.
  • Personal and professional goals.
Sample Persona – Nonprofit Communications Campaign on Community Fitness
  • Context: A nonprofit is launching a new community fitness program and needs to promote it to community activists, politicians, and citizens, and to motivate their involvement. The staff needs to know what's important to these audiences, so it can shape its messages, Web site and blog (a centerpiece of the campaign), brochures and events accordingly.
  • Challenge: This is the first time the organization is proactively communicating to motivate the launch of fit community programs. The campaign will center on a new blog and Web site, but the nonprofit doesn't know how to design the site and parlay the blog to most effectively educate its diverse audiences and motivate them to act.

    The communications team just doesn't know where to start.
  • Persona (short version):
    Introducing Frank Cummings, age 64

    Frank, 67, owns his own home in a moderately-priced area of an industrial-based community in Ohio. He is married, and has two children who now live in neighboring states. Frank took an early-retirement option from the electrical contracting firm where he worked for 19 years. Now he spends a lot of his free time working on his home and yard, and walking in the neighborhood.

    One problem Frank has noticed as he walks is that the traffic speeds along his street (a connector between two arterial streets) are often well in excess of the 25MPH posted speed limit. Frank has made comments about the high speeds to his city council representative, who is, with Frank, a member of the local Lions Club. But the council-person, while sympathetic, hasn't done anything other than to suggest that Frank should lodge a complaint with someone at the city, or the police.

    Meanwhile, the speeding cars continue, and Frank feels unsafe as he walks.

Web use:

Like some in his age group, Frank is a late-comer to computers and the Internet. He needed to learn to use a computer-based service mounted in his truck the last few years he was working, and struggled to keep up with the technology that seemed to come much easier to younger people in the firm.

Frank purchased a computer primarily to use e-mail with his children, but he also has used several programs such as QuickBooks and tax-prep software. His connection to the Internet is through DSL so it's not the fastest and Frank doesn't do like to wait around to see family videos on You Tube or other Web content.


- Slow down the traffic outside his house to increase walker and biker safety.

- Make his neighborhood a more enjoyable place to live

Application: Once the nonprofit got to know Frank, and his persona peers, it was able to shape messages and communications to connect with these individuals' interests, habits and goals. As a result, they knew they were doing their best to maximize audience response.

Readers, craft a set of personas today to re-shape your nonprofit's organizational or program/service marketing plan or campaign. You'll find it invaluable to get to know these folks.P.S. Here are my tips on doing great marketing planning 90 days at a time. Add personas to this approach and you're gold:
© 2002-2008 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications. As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company (, Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to organizations as varied as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, and Wake County (NC) Health Services. 

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