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Understanding your audience

Five ways to make sure you understand your nonprofit’s audience

When it comes to marketing, there’s no shortage of tactics and platforms for spreading the word about your nonprofit to reach your audience. While it’s always nice to have options, you might feel overwhelmed by all of the places you feel you need to be to make sure your marketing is successful. How do you choose where to spend your time and money? How can you be sure you are reaching your supporters and/or clients? What about that new platform that one board member is insisting you need to focus on? The easiest way to narrow down your options and make a plan is actually pretty simple – make sure you understand your audience! Maybe that doesn’t feel simple right now, but here are some ways to make sure you are in tune with your audience and ensuring your marketing messages are deployed in the right place, at the right time.


Develop marketing personas

We've written about the importance of developing marketing personas before, and it continues to be my go-to first step for any client struggling to develop a marketing plan. If you don’t truly understand the people you are trying to communicate with, choosing the right marketing tactics and writing a message that will resonate with the people you want to reach become nothing more than a guessing game. Marketing personas, also called buyer or customer personas, are semi-realistic representations of customers you serve, built by your understanding of your audience segments and backed by data and research. HubSpot has a great tool that helps you build personas for each of your audiences. As you are building your marketing personas, you will ask yourself about your customers’ interests, communication preferences, demographics, etc. The process of putting your marketing personas together helps you get a better idea about how your supporters and clients communicate, where you can easily reach them and the types of messages they will respond to.


Meet your audience where they are

Once you’ve established marketing personas, it’s time to take a look at the platforms you are actively using and compare them to the places you have determined your audiences spend their time. If your personas and current tactics don’t match up, it’s time to revise your marketing plan! While a “plan” may sound finite, it should actually be thought of as a fluid strategy that is updated regularly. Just because you have “always” done something, doesn’t mean it is a marketing tactic that is best for reaching your intended audience. Be thoughtful about where you spend your marketing time and money. Use your personas to drive your marketing decisions and help you determine what is serving you well, what you should consider adding and what you should eliminate.


Pay attention to data

While you’re revising your marketing plan, compare your marketing metrics to the personas you have just created to look for patterns that prove your analysis. It is so important to establish and regularly track marketing metrics to understand how your audience is engaging with your content. Check out our blog on digital metrics for an idea of what you should be keeping tabs on. Tracking metrics is easiest in digital marketing, but there are ways to track metrics in traditional marketing as well. For example, consider adding QR codes to your direct mail pieces to see if people are taking the action you are asking them to. If your metrics seem off on a platform or tactic you are sure will reach your audience, consider some of the nuances you could change to increase engagement. Flexibility is key! Are you posting on Facebook too often or without including any clear calls to action in your posts? Are you sending your emails at a time your audience would be looking at email? Keep tabs on your marketing metrics and adjust as needed based on your audience’s engagement.


Ask for input

Even if you feel like your marketing personas and data tell a true story about your audience and how to market to them, it never hurts to collect feedback from your supporters and clients. Talk to some of your top supporters and clients about where they are seeing your messages and what is resonating with them. Have they driven by your billboards? Did they come across your Instagram ads? Are they more likely to donate online or send you a check in a remit through the mail? Is your e-newsletter too long or just right? Was your message clear and compelling? Put together an informal sample of feedback and use it to help you adjust your tactics and messaging. Talking to people one-on-one can give you valuable feedback, but you may also want to put together a more formal survey as well. An online survey allows you to ask for general feedback as well as specific details. Plus, people can complete them anonymously, which can help encourage honest feedback. Use your results to inform changes to your marketing plan.


Try new tactics

All of this research may lead you to an unsettling realization. There are platforms you should be on or tactics you should be using to reach your intended audiences. If you have a small team (or if you ARE the team), take a deep breath. Marketing is constantly evolving and that means staying nimble and open to adjusting your plan. Work this new tactic or platform it into your plan and be thoughtful about what you could cut out of your day-to-day marketing activities to accommodate it. Make sure to establish metrics to watch from the start so you can track engagement and adjust as needed in the future.

Establishing a true understanding of your audience takes time, but it is time well spent. Knowing where to reach your current and target audiences will help you write and share the right messages in the right ways. And if you are successfully reaching your audiences, you should see an increase in engagement which should mean more donations, more clients and a more brand ambassadors for your nonprofit.


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