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How to Create Donor Personas Using Stakeholder Interviews and Surveys

Building donor personas can be challenging if you don’t clearly understand your audience motivations.

We hear from our clients all the time: “I don’t know all of our donors in a one-on-one capacity, so how can I figure out their motivations?” This is a legitimate question.

This is where using both stakeholder interviews and surveys can help. 

The benefit of these strategies is that they give you data directly from the source that can help you build out your marketing personas in order to build better messaging and campaigns.

How Stakeholder Interview Help Build Donor Personas

Stakeholder interviews can be with any type of constituent – donors, board members, strategic partners, and all types of audiences. The goal of stakeholder interviews can vary a lot.

In addition to gathering information about the individual and their relationship to the organization, interviews can be a great time to get feedback on messaging and brand ideas.

When you’re using stakeholder interviews to build a persona, you want to get at the heart of their motivations. Remember you are going to use that motivational information to build the persona, and eventually your marketing messaging.  

Some examples of questions that can help get to the bottom of motivations are:

  1. How did you originally find our organization?
  2. What attracted you to our work, and why have you stuck around?
  3. What do you think the most critical element of our work is?
  4. Where do you see us making the biggest impact over the next 5 years? Why is that important to you?

There are a lot of different types of questions that you can ask based on what the goals of this interview are.  

stakeholder interview guide

including over 100 questions that you can ask during your stakeholder interviews. make your conversations count!

The Benefits of Stakeholder Interviews

One huge benefit to interviews, is that they are a powerful engagement tactic with donors, partners or anyone else you want to build a relationship with.

Think about it…  

First, asking to interview someone shows that you care about what they think.  

This gives them a bit of prestige. They are a special person in the mind of your organization. That makes them feel good.

Second, it’s in our human nature to like to talk about our opinions.

Rather than sharing their opinions or gripes at the family dinner table, this stakeholder has special access to you!  What they share with you may change the course of the organization, its brand or its work. Who knows!

Lastly, it gives you a chance to share the organization’s vision with a constituent. If you’ve ever seen Simon Sinek’s TedTalk on the importance of “why” then you know that donors that share your organizational vision will become loyal supporters.

Using Surveys to Build Personas

Not everyone has time to do a one-on-one interview with your organization.

Surveys are a great way to collect a large amount of data from people across your organizational ecosystem without a lot of staff bandwidth.

Remember surveys don’t have to be a million questions long.

In fact, I recommend you keep the number of questions between 5 – 10. This allows users to feel helpful by taking the survey without taking up their entire day. Most users are not going to be able to take more than 2-3 minutes to take a survey.

View our example donor survey on SurveyMonkey.

Note that this example has all freeform responses. We tried to keep it general for the example, but for your organization, you may want to use multiple choice to get data that is easily analyzed.

However, if you want to provide more freedom for donors, you can stick with freeform responses.

A good way to analyze freeform responses is copy all of the responses and drop them into a word cloud provider like WordClouds.com. This will help visualize the results of freeform text.

Here’s one we did with BaconIpsum text.

If you survey frequently, as you should, you don’t need to make them long, because you may be focused on just one topic for each survey.

Where to Use Surveys in Your Marketing

Surveys are powerful because you can use them for so many different purposes.  

They can help you assess brand messaging, the effectiveness of events, the effectiveness of your website, and much more.

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on why surveys are critical to building personas.  

Additionally, a survey, as you’ll see below, can be used to segment your supporters as an onboarding engagement tactic so you can deliver a customized experience.

If you’re starting out with no personas for your organization try to think about how to phrase surveys in a way that will bring motivation to light. You can ask questions like:

  1. What is the biggest problem that our community faces today is: [freeform response]
  2. What is the biggest impact that [your org name] provides in our community: [freeform response]

In addition to motivation, it is important to ask questions that will help with your campaign tactics. By this I mean, where can you find more of these same types of supporters.

So, questions like this can be helpful:

  1. How did you first hear about our organization?
  2. Why did you want to get involved in our work?

When you’re planning acquisition campaigns, questions like these will help you identify what channels will be most effective in acquiring more supporters, and what type of messaging to use in the campaigns.

You may be thinking: “Where should we deploy surveys to get the best results?”

Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a stand alone survey that you send to donors by email once a year
  • Include a survey on your donation thank you page
  • Use website pop-ups for engaged users to answer 1-2 questions about the content their consuming
  • Use surveys as part of an automated email drip series for newly acquired users
  • Use the Facebook polling tool to get information and engage your social followers

Recommended Tools for Surveys

There are a lot of different tools out there that can get you started with surveys.  Here are a few ideas:

SurveyMonkey – You may have heard of this service before. It’s probably the most popular and well known survey provider. SurveyMonkey allows you to build free surveys up to 10 questions, and you can embed them on your website.  They also have great reporting!

TypeForm – This is another popular survey provider that has similar features to Survey Monkey, and provides a Freemium model. You can build free surveys up to 10 questions and 100 responses per month. TypeForm integrates well with services like Google Sheets and MailChimp, so you could use these surveys to build reports or automated marketing campaigns.

Google Survey – As with everything Google, this is a simple and useful product.  They do charge 10 cents per survey completed. So, be aware that there is a cost.  But, the surveys are easy to create and really simple to embed on your website.

Your CRM (Warning: can be POWERFUL!) – Many CRM’s have a way to create web-to-lead forms which can be used to take surveys or add data to a CRM user profile.  This means that if you were surveying someone that already exists in your CRM, the survey answers would be stored in your CRM.

Why is the CRM method so powerful?

Imagine using your survey in a welcome series to new donors. If you were able to use surveys to find their biggest motivations, than you could tailor content to that individual.

Let’s say through surveys you find a donor is more interested in your program X than in your program Y.  Then next time you ask for a donation, tailor the ask to support program X.

Talk about improving response rate!

What to do next…

First, make sure you avoid implementation paralysis. We recommend getting your team together and start to think about what personas are priority based on your organization’s goals.  

Meaning, if you’re ramping up a partnership program this year, prioritize doing some surveys and stakeholder interviews with partners and potential partners. This will give you a strong foundation of understanding before you do your big marketing push.

Second, take your survey and interview findings and build personas.  

Why is this important?

Not only will writing this out clarify your thinking, but it will also serve as an internal document that your whole organization can work from. If program managers are working with a particular persona, this document will help them build better relationships with their target personas.

Finally, after you’ve built a persona, start to work on your messaging.

Think about content tone, and start to put together your elevator pitch using, what we call the problem and solution statement formula.

Once you have some really good messaging, start to test it. You can use stakeholder interviews or surveys to test messaging as well!  Or use a/b testing in emails, on your website or through advertising to test the effectiveness of your messages.