Ideal Donor

Who is YOUR ideal donor? I have worked on and off for non-profit, religious broadcasting organizations throughout my career.  I once had a client that specialized in drug and alcohol recovery for young men.  They were advertising on the station for their services and they were also appealing to donors.  The problem is that they never really asked who the station appeals to.  The station was positioned for an older, female listener.  They were not going to get the same kind of results from our station as they would get from a station more suited to their audience.

Every legitimate media outlet has a very specific target audience.  Here’s what I mean:

  • A magazine knows exactly who their readers are.
  • A radio station knows all about their listeners.
  • A 24-hour-a-day news station knows who is watching and it targeting them intentionally.

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make when it comes to using media is purchasing space at their favorite media outlet instead of purchasing media at an outlet that targets the best type of donor for their organization.

Media organizations are put together to appeal to certain types of people and to the advertisers that also share the same target. It’s all very intentional.  Before a nonprofit takes out an ad to promote themselves and to appeal to new donors, a development director should be aware of both their own target audience and of the demographics of the media outlet they are utilizing.  This is the best way to insure you are maximizing those outreach and promotional dollars.

A good media organization never tries to be all things to all people and an advertising executive who tries to tell you something otherwise, is simply not being truthful.  Every media outlet has a very specific people group, purpose, demographic, income bracket, and/or geographic area in mind.   Your nonprofit should also have an ideal donor in mind and make sure your target demographics matches up with those of the media outlets you are using.

If your nonprofit organization does not define an ideal donor, your outreach to new donors will not usually hit the right people.

If a nonprofit organization doesn’t intentionally market to their ideal client, they will usually market to the director or CEO instead. Without intentionality, CEOs and development directors will tend towards the media outlets they like instead of those their donors like.  Sometimes, the CEO or development director happens to also be a part of the target audience of your ideal donor.  However, usually that’s not the case, so the target audience needs to be well defined so you don’t waste your money!

When we ask CEOs or development directors to describe their target audience, 4 out of 5 times they will say something like, “we have all kinds of people who give to our organization.”  That is probably true, but not everyone who gives is an ideal donor.  For example:

  • Some donors love your organization and they are so encouraging, but they simply don’t have the resources to be as generous as they would like. Not every donor will have the fund to push your organization forward in an optimal capacity.
  • Some donors give and then have a huge agenda. They may try to get your organization to drift away from its mission or they may make demands for the funds that are difficult for your staff to fulfill.
  • Some donors put pressure on organizations and will threaten to pull their funding unless you start a certain programs or hire certain people.

There is a certain type of donor that cheerfully gives and is a great fit for your organization as it moves forward.  The only organization that truly does not have a target audience is the IRS.  Everybody else has a type of donor that works best for their organization.

No matter if you are a religious radio station, a pregnancy center, a church, a missions agency, an adoption service, or a medical charity, there is a type of person who fits best with your type of organization, who often becomes a repeat donor, and who is satisfying to work with. 

You need to design your imaging for your organization or outreach service with a target audience in mind.  Non-profit who don’t identify this person very specifically will typically put together marketing collateral that the CEO likes instead of what attracts their very best donor.

So, let me give you a couple of tips for identifying your ideal donor:

Ideal Donor Identification Step #1: Look at your last 5 major donations and ask:

  • What is their gender
  • What is their age? (young adult, middle aged, retiree)
  • Are they clearly part of a subculture that you can identify? (homeowner, golfer, artist, a manager, a laborer, etc)
  • How much did they donate? (Was it helpful enough to work with that donor again)
  • Did you like working with them?

If it was helpful and you liked the donor and would like to work with them again, then take note of their age, subculture and gender.  This could be a great ideal donor to target.

Ideal Donor Identification Step #2: Look at your 5 best donors and ask the same questions:

  • What is their gender
  • What is their age
  • Are they clearly part of a subculture that you can identify?
  • How much did they donate?

Often your 5 favorite donors share traits with the last 5 donations that were made.  See what lines up and what doesn’t.  The overlapping qualities may further define your target audience.


Then you need to ask, “Is our current outreach material lining up with who is our ideal donor?”  Are they the people you’d like to be working with in 5 years?  If not, what needs to change in your materials to attract the right type of donor to your organization?

One of the religious broadcasting companies I worked for spent a great deal of time developing a target audience for their station.  They had identified their target audience as:

  • A white, 44-year-old woman
  • Married with 3 kids. 1 teen from a previous marriage and 2 elementary aged kids.
  • Religious, church-going
  • Upper-middle income

They even put a picture up of her so they would be reminded all the time to target her and not anyone else.

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