Know Your Nonprofit Organization's Audience

  • by Christine Batta
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Many nonprofit leaders feel like the best way to effectively reach a valuable pool of supporters is by reaching out to the largest, most general public. However, even though defining your core audience creates a smaller target, it does help you make a much bigger impact. People are turned off by outreach which feels generic and will go to great lengths to find companies and organizations whose interactions make them feel like an individual rather than a dollar sign.

Narrow your Audience

Ever been on a nonprofit website where you aren't sure where the organization wants you to click because everything is loud, large and competing for your attention? That's what happens when your website is trying to cater to an audience of everyone. In a design project this creates a problem of hierarchy, the visual ranking of importance, and can be resolved by defining audience needs. Being able to prioritize these needs based on your nonprofit goals creates understandable hierarchy on the user end.

Some examples of core audience includes donors, corporate supporters, or the end customers. If you have several, yet clearly defined core audience groups, you can bucket your outreach to tailor specific parts of a website to each audience like in our design for the Community Partnership for the Prevent of Homelessness website.

Do your research

Your organizational perception of your audience may be based on internal assumptions, so any actual research or data you can gain about them is incredibly valuable. Whether you are looking at how your audience thinks of your brand as a whole, your services, your website or a print campaign, insight into the perspectives, lifestyle and habits of people connected to your organization will help you nurture the parts that work and rethink the parts that don't. For example, what are their barriers to action? What prevents them from interacting with your nonprofit?

Research can be as simple as reaching out through an online survey or as in-depth as hiring a market research professional, if you are really stuck. MailChimp, a website for designing and sending eNewsletters, even visited users where they work to understand their frame of mind when using their tools. They looked at, "for instance, is the office quiet, or is there a lot of foot traffic? Is the computer a newer model or something outdated? What terms or phrases did our customers use to describe their work, their situations, and their emotional states?" This information helps you avoid guessing when creating an experience through your design and messaging. (SOURCE: New MailChimp: User Persona Research)

Share Your Values

People want to be able to see themselves in an organization in order to trust its legitimacy and feel like their personal goals will be supported by becoming a part of the brand. Build an engaging relationship by pinpointing values that you can share with your audience. For example, before a brand refresh initiation for Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs said that the company is not about computer speeds and improvements, but rather the brand value that "People with passion can change the world for the better." (SOURCE: Timeless Branding Lessons From a Young Steve Jobs) Even if your nonprofit is about preventing homelessness or connecting local citizens with public services, instead of promoting impressive facts and figures you should ask yourself why you do it and why it is important. Your specific internal organizational goals may not be the same you share with an external audience looking for hope, identity and inspiration.

Keep it Relevant

Branding is a living, breathing entity. As Steve Jobs said in the speech I mentioned earlier, "Even a great brand needs investment and caring if it's going to retain its relevance and vitality." Needs, habitats, interactions with technology and people always change and your knowledge of your audience should include relevant, time-sensitive materials. If a new tool for fundraising or a successful campaign appears, take your audience's engagement with these markers into consideration.

Just as Shala pointed out in her recent blog series about What You Can Do to Help Your Designer, knowing your audience is an important part of being specific and will help your designer (and your design dollars!) help your organization the most!

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