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By DonorSearch

All businesses, including nonprofits, require things like revenue, support, and marketing to achieve their goals. For nonprofits, their limited resources can be stretched thin in pursuit of these ends. Nonprofits need to utilize their resources efficiently and take actions that best accomplish their mission. 

The extent to which an organization’s online marketing is successful often depends on the extent to which they understand their audience. Knowing your audience can help you maximize donations, gain valuable supporters and volunteers, and expand your reach to like-minded individuals and organizations.

Why Understanding Your Audience is Key

Knowing your audience is crucial for many reasons. First, your audience includes the people you serve and the donors who contribute the resources to make such service happen. If you cannot identify these stakeholders, your services may be underutilized and your funding could be at risk. Second, when you know your audience, you can refine and adjust your services. 

Put this knowledge to use by targeting specific challenges and reach people with your message. Not only does this help keep your current audience, but it also helps you expand it to similarly situated people. Understanding your audience helps your organization grow, adapt, and maintain relevance in chaotic times.

How to Research Your Audience

Knowing your audience requires constant observation and research. With today’s analytic tools, it’s never been easier to learn who is engaging with your organization. One of the best ways to research your audience starts with using analytical data from your website. Using this data, you can learn what on your website is drawing attention, and how users engage with your content. Sometimes, you can even learn crucial demographic information that helps to define your audience. Using tools like Google Analytics, you can gain precise insights about how visitors interact with your website.

You can learn more with your online presence. You can use your existing infrastructure to create focus groups, send out surveys, and find out exactly who your users are and what they want.

Prospect Research

As a nonprofit, your relationships with donors are some of the most important connections to your audience. While what’s true of donors may not be true of the rest of your audience, learning about your donors can provide crucial insight on what your organization is doing well. Also, finding commonalities among donors can help you expand your donor base even further.

The process of identifying potential donors and expanding your donor base is called prospect research. This technical term encompasses various strategies designed to identify potential donors based on propensity to give, markers of wealth, and professional affiliation. Some nonprofits do prospect research in-house, while others hire consulting firms. Which is best for you depends on numerous factors, including your mission, size, and reach.

Affinity To Give

One of the most significant aspects of prospect research is determining a potential donor’s affinity to give. Your audience contains numerous individuals who share your organization’s values or appreciate your services. Not all have the means or desire to contribute in the form of a donation. Determining a person’s affinity to give helps you prioritize their needs and cultivate a broad and diverse donor base.

Determining someone’s affinity to give is as much an art as it is a science. There are many leading indicators that someone might be willing to become a donor:

  • History of Donating to Other Nonprofits – If a potential donor has a history of donating to other nonprofit organizations, then the chances are good that they would consider donating to yours.
  • Nonprofit Affiliations – Does this donor spend time volunteering, working for, or working with nonprofit organizations? They understand that nonprofits rely on donations and grants to stay running. They’re more likely to give or respond to an appeal.
  • Wealth – While all donors are vital to a nonprofit, wealthier donors can make larger contributions more frequently. Look at successful business owners or politically-involved people in your community as potential donors. While not all wealthy people are inclined to give, their donations may go a long way.

How to Put Your Audience Data to Work

By now, you’re probably swimming in research, from handwritten notes to quantitative internet data. The key now is to organize that research and put it to use. Many organizations utilize a database to track their donors, prospects, and contributions. Using a database, your organization can combine your information with data from other software platforms to enhance your marketing, communications, and development efforts. You can also use this information to make data-driven fundraising decisions

Similarly, many organizations take advantage of Customer Relationship Management software to track donors, prospects, communications, and transactions. While different from a database, CRM software allows you to track every aspect of your outreach and cultivation efforts on one platform. This can help you better engage with and gather data on your audience. This has a twofold effect: maximizing your existing audience while giving you the data required to expand it.

Organized data can be used to target your audience more effectively. This will enhance your messaging and focus on the issues your donors care about. You can more effectively reach your audience using every tool in the marketing toolkit, from the $10,000/month Google Grant to your social media and email communications.


With these tools and others in the marketplace, your nonprofit organization can identify, target, and grow its audience more effectively. You will better compete with for-profit businesses as well as similar nonprofits.  A stronger understanding of your audience will help you maximize your resources.

In a climate increasingly dominated by data-driven solutions, nonprofit organizations must participate in digital marketing and communications. Learning about your audience takes tremendous effort. See how DonorSearch can help you understand your audience and take your marketing and fundraising to the next level. 

About the Author

Grant Hensel is the CEO of Nonprofit Megaphone, an agency focused 100% on Google Grant Management for nonprofits. NPM is honored to manage the Google Grant for 370+ leading nonprofits worldwide and to be an inaugural member of the Google Ad Grant Certified Professionals community.

How To Analyze Your Nonprofit’s Target Audience (and Why)