How to keep your nonprofit’s audiences at the centre of your communications

Jul 26, 2022

Who are your nonprofit’s audiences?
Does your core audience list align with your organization’s strategic priorities?
Do you base your communications decisions on a solid understanding of your audiences?

Identifying and understanding your nonprofit’s audiences are fundamental to good communications planning and decision making. Only once you know who you’re trying to reach can you make plans to reach them. And once you understand your target audiences, you can make sound day-to-day communications decisions.

Only once you know who your nonprofit needs to reach can you make plans to reach them. #NPMC Click To Tweet

Keeping your nonprofit’s audiences front and centre: four steps

How do you keep your nonprofit’s audiences at the centre of your communications planning? First, you need to identify and prioritize your core audiences. Next, you’ll need to create personas for each one. Then, you’ll need to use the personas you have created. Finally, you’ll need to maintain, enhance and revisit your audience personas over time.

1. Identify and prioritize your nonprofit’s audiences.

Marketing communications objectives should connect to organizational strategic goals — which require reaching specific groups of people. So who are they?

Look to your strategic plan for guidance about your priority audiences. Remember, it’s not possible to be all things, to all people, all the time, so strategic relevance is vital. Make hard decisions and be careful about defaulting to long lists of stakeholder groups. Consider who you can realistically reach and engage with within your available time and resources. And remember that nonprofit marketing is about much more than fundraising, so your list probably needs to extend well beyond financial supporters.

Note: The “general public” is not an audience. Remember that if you do an excellent job of reaching a specific group, your communications will be more compelling and interesting, even for audiences outside of that group.

Once you’ve identified your core audiences, it’s helpful to go a step further and prioritize your nonprofit’s audience list. Consider factors such as your existing traction and brand equity with certain groups, those you need to reach to keep up with changing conditions or contexts, and those who might be poised to help you to effect change.

Your prioritized list of audiences is essential because it can guide your communications decision-making. For example, multiple nonprofits I work with have recently had the same three conversations about 1) being on TikTok, 2) starting a podcast, and 3) replicating a surprisingly successful social media post. While many of these ideas could be worth pursuing, the questions they should be answering include, “Are our core audiences showing up here, following this type of publication, or paying attention to these conversations?”

Look to your strategic plan for guidance about your nonprofit's priority audiences. #NPMC Click To Tweet

2. Develop audience personas.

Once you’ve identified and prioritized your audiences, create audience personas (also referred to as marketing personas, audience profiles, or audience summaries). Personas will help you to understand and visualize your audiences, and find the connection between what your organization wants to communicate and what audiences want and need from you.

There are many marketing persona templates available to help you get started. However, it’s essential to recognize that the ways we’ve been creating personas over the years need to evolve. We need to move away from lazy or “cute” demographic-based personas that reinforce bias and stereotypes, toward a more relevant focus on psychographics, including actions, values, motivations and needs. For more on building meaningful personas, here are a few resources:

3. Use your audience personas.

Once they are in place, use your personas in communications planning and consult personas when developing communications content. Well-crafted personas will help you think about your audiences’ habits, anticipate their concerns and answer their questions. Personas will help you consider your audiences’ behaviours, communication preferences, interests, and the sources of information they trust.

By consulting your audience personas, you will make better decisions about how and where to show up. For example:

  • Audience fears, pain points, goals and needs should inform message development and calls to action.
  • Insights about information sources, publications, and other ways to reach these audiences should inform decisions about channels and tactics.

4. Maintain and revisit your audience personas over time.

Once they have been documented, maintain and enhance your personas, adding new information and insights over time. For example, when you develop website content and explore the questions or problems your audiences are trying to resolve online, capture that information in your personas.

Most nonprofit organizations I work with are at the earliest stages of this audience work, so we focus on identifying and prioritizing audiences. Then I help them to create basic personas based on internal knowledge. From there, I encourage them to build on these “starting point” personas, gradually enhancing and improving them by adding insights from data, interviews, observations and interactions. If your personas are lean or outdated, I recommend you do the same.

Staying centred on your audiences is an ongoing process. You might need to reconsider the information within your personas from time to time, such as after significant external or internal shifts. You might need to re-prioritize your audiences, for example, when you’ve achieved specific goals and need to direct your efforts toward other groups, or if changes to resources mean that you need to streamline your communications efforts. And every few years (for example, when your organization has a new strategic plan), you might need to completely re-evaluate your core audiences.

How will you strengthen your focus on your nonprofit’s audiences?

How strong is your nonprofit’s focus on audiences? Consider:

  • Can you identify your nonprofit organization’s core audiences and list them in priority order? If not, start making those tough decisions.
  • Do you know who you need to reach but have not yet developed an understanding of them? It’s time to build audience personas.
  • Have you created personas for your priority audiences that are “gathering dust”? Put them to use in communications planning and content creation.
  • Do you already consult audience personas when planning and designing your marketing communications? Capture critical new insights that arise, and enhance your personas over time.

What steps do you need to take to keep your nonprofit’s audiences at the centre of your communications planning?

Keeping your nonprofit’s audiences front and centre: 4 steps #NPMC Click To Tweet

Related Posts

Communications fundamentals: boring basics or radical approach?

Communications fundamentals: boring basics or radical approach?

Last week, a VP of marketing and communications at a large charity called my work “radical,” and I was honestly quite surprised. I just celebrated my 16th business anniversary on Sunday. For 16 years, I've been providing nonprofit marketing communications consulting...

Brand messaging that guides more than communications [case study]

Brand messaging that guides more than communications [case study]

When I develop brand messaging for nonprofits, I always examine their vision, mission, values, and priorities — because the brand must align with an organization’s strategic focus and direction. But for my client AlphaPlus, the process has come full circle: the brand...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This