How to Develop Donor Personas To Guide Fundraising

The “donor persona” is a nonprofit industry term, so to speak, but it’s not one that makes immediate sense without context. To learn what this is and how to develop donor personas to guide fundraising, read through our extensive guide.

What Is a Donor Persona?

You may have a loose knowledge of Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, and his iconic archetypes. Each of them represents a certain kind of or part of a person. Though he primarily focuses on the self, the amina/aminus, and other interesting individual archetypes like the hero, the wise old man, and the jester likely come to your mind. Every archetype had distinct traits—the hero rescues and protects people, the wise old man is a wellspring of wisdom, and the jester lies and double-crosses. He believed that deep down, everyone had these same archetypal categories in their head and understood others through these lenses.

While donor personas are purely utilitarian, they too involve a collective image of a kind of person. After deciding on a set of personas, charities then use them to generalize about the behavior of others who fall into one or another category.

Why Personas Are Useful

Personas are tools for organizing and understanding people. This is usually for the purpose of fundraising and promoting other forms of charitable engagement such as volunteering. Rather than treating every person as unique or like they’re all the same, building donor personas give you a picture of several discrete groups that share broad characteristics.

In an age of prolific data, there’s plenty to analyze to create these groups. And as businesses, political campaigns, and other charities tailor their appeals to people with certain values and interests, it’s also a marketing method would-be donors begin to expect. In that way, they anticipate a personal message with a precise tone that matches them almost subconsciously.

How They Take Shape

To get your messaging and fundraising to that point, you need even more data than you can already access. Sure, the size, frequency, and medium of the donors’ donations matter, as well as basic demographic and social media data you collect, but you need deeper insight to build personas. This is where surveys and interviews come into play.


Surveys are ideal for building many donor profiles without speaking to them. Though answers may lack the nuance that someone could flesh out in person or on the phone, surveys are an invaluable tool. Because you lack any further direct contact with your survey-taker, you must craft incisive and clear questions.

The first rule is to err on the side of simplicity. Use easily-understood words and short sentences. For closed-ended queries, make sure you allow a breadth of answers, including a “not applicable” response. At the same time, make sure each answer is mutually exclusive, unless the question doesn’t make this necessary. For instance, answering what method of communication they prefer means a respondent can pick one from several they utilize. One of the most common mistakes in a survey and interview is over-stuffing. For the best response rate and highest quality answers, limit your surveys to the questions that are most useful.


While surveys are good, interviews are golden opportunities to delve into donor motivation and behavior. Not only do these conversations allow you to forge stronger relationships with interviewees, but they’re chock-full of info if you ask questions effectively. Don’t be afraid to be sneaky about them, too. A normal conversation, such as one at an event, can meld into an interview at any point.

Build up to larger questions about why they get involved in charity work as the interview goes on. Their responses supply you with material to mine in your messaging to signal that you’re in tune with their concerns and worth their investment. As you build a profile though, don’t neglect to ask about what they actually do—their stated values may be loftier than you might assume.

With an interview, make sure your body language and tone are consistent and inviting. As two people talk, it’s natural for the respondent to filter information based on the perceived receptiveness of the interviewer. If your interviewers seem disinterested, you may glean less.

Finding People to Survey/Interview

You may wonder where these survey takers and interviewees come from. Charities typically start with their established donor and volunteer pool. As these people feed into certain personas, you learn what groups respond well to you.

From there, talk to loosely connected and unconnected individuals. Encouraging established partners to recruit friends and family for you is a reliable method. As you reach out in general, make no donation appeal and instead offer an incentive. Doing so keeps others’ suspicions at bay and increases their participation. It’s vital you talk to non-donors and non-volunteers because this can help you target new donor personas in the future.

Questions To Ask

Next, let’s move into the actual questions to ask people in order to build donor personas. You would not directly ask all of these, but rather find roundabout means of gathering this information.

What Demographics Do You Fall Into?

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Locale
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Employment/Income
  • Education

Some people may not be comfortable responding to some of these, especially if they worry about discrimination. Always offer a “Prefer Not to Answer” option here.

What Do You Value?

  • What Motivates You?
  • What Are Your Goals?
  • Who Do You Trust?
  • What Causes You To Distrust Someone?
  • Who Impacted/Impacts You?
  • What Do You Believe About the World?

These are quite existential queries. Many require a solid relationship or a less forward way of asking. When you get good responses, this category informs your “why” or your purpose and how to articulate it better.

How Do You Interact With the World?

  • Where Do You Go for Information?
  • Do You Use a Computer/Smartphone?
  • What Social Media Platforms Do You Frequent?
  • How Do You Prefer Someone Reaches You?
  • What Is Your Routine Like?
  • What Activity Is Worth Your Free Time?
  • How Do You Prefer To Engage with Charities?

These questions, on the other hand, inform your “how,” or the practical methods you employ to keep in touch with people and make fundraising appeals.

Example Personas

To give you an idea of what groups may coalesce as you gather data, here are some examples based on varying boundary lines.

  • Committed Corrine: Gives monthly and stays in the loop
  • One-Off Owen: Gave a gift one year ago
  • Volunteer Victor: Serves but doesn’t donate often
  • Social Media Shaniya: Shares your posts far and wide
  • Millennial Michael: New to giving, passionate, and raising a young family
  • Old-Fashioned Octavia: Gives each year by check and wants a physical newsletter

Donor Personas Going Forward

Each persona should have a unique appeal method. With millennial givers, for instance, you may encourage them to help set up a one-time fundraising event to show. This shows them how their passion can translate into action. Educate your staff on each persona so you can formalize your communications.

Also, you should reassess these personas as you and the world you operate in changes. People are dynamic, and you need to keep up with their priorities to maintain your income streams.

As you develop donor personas to guide fundraising, make sure you point people to the right companies when asking for tangibles. 2moda is a trusted wholesaler that sources everything from kids’ backpacks to bulk wholesale jewelry.


How to Develop Donor Personas To Guide Fundraising

Charity and donations