Putting Your Nonprofit Personas to Work With Marketing Automation

Are your nonprofit’s personas working for you? Or are they an exercise you did way back when and then stored away? Your nonprofit’s personas should be “alive” — at work every day, shaping your organization’s marketing and messages.

How do you get ROI from your personas on a day-to-day basis? You bake them into your marketing automation software, where they directly feed into your marketing to attract, engage, and delight your nonprofit’s key audiences.

If you haven’t created personas, or you have personas that haven’t been updated in years, scroll down and follow the tips below to create or update your personas first.

If you’re ready to get ROI out of your personas by putting them to work in a marketing automation system, let’s dive in!

How to Embed Your Personas Into Marketing Automation

For the purposes of this blog, we’re going to assume you’re already using a marketing automation system. If you’re not, there are many available, and many offer nonprofit discounts. G2 compares different marketing automation options here.

1. Set a personas property or field in your marketing automation tool.

A screenshot of a user profile in a marketing automation tool. Name: Nonprofit Mary. Description: Nonprofit marketing professional. Roles: Marketing Manager, Mom.

Your marketing automation tool should have the ability to categorize each and every person in your CRM according to their persona. This may be through a pre-created “personas” field or property, as in HubSpot Marketing Hub, or a custom property that you create. Create or customize this property so that you have a drop-down selection of the personas you’re trying to reach.

2. Gather persona data on your contacts.

Create a persona-based question that is part of the forms that visitors fill out on your site in order to get a download or other resource that is valuable to them. Ask “What best describes you?” and then have them select one option. By having visitors categorize themselves using your options, you’re adding truth to your data, from their perspective. You’re most likely going to collect job titles or answers to other questions about their roles, too, but there’s no substitute for self-identification when it comes to personas. Tip: Customize the persona labels on the form to use language that’s natural to your visitors. Also, to avoid friction, it may be best to keep the top-of-the-funnel forms such as enewsletter or blog subscriptions limited to email address and perhaps name. But once visitors show interest in a download/resource, it’s usually time to ask the persona question.

3. Analyze the persona makeup of your CRM contacts and use it to set priorities for marketing.

Once you start collecting persona data in your marketing automation software, analyze who’s in there. Make lists to segment users by persona and identify gaps and abundances when it comes to representation. Lacking a key persona? Create a topic cluster to draw them in with SEO content that’s solving their problems and helping them meet their goals. Run an ad campaign targeting people in the underrepresented persona. Use a content mapping tool to meet your audience where they are at each stage of their journey with your organization.

4. Customize communication based on persona.

Now that you’re using your marketing automation software to identify the personas of your contacts, you can create personalization and customization to provide them what they want and need, and be more effective in engaging them in the ways that matter to you, whether that’s donations, membership, event attendance, or some other organizational goal.

Here are some ideas:

  • Serve a personalized CTA in blogs, web pages, and emails. Let’s say your organization does medical research. Your blog on the latest research development can end with a CTA that’s customized by persona as follows:
    • Patients see a CTA encouraging them to register for your patient conference.
    • Researchers see a CTA soliciting proposals for conference presentations.
    • Pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions see a CTA promoting conference sponsorship.
  • Create a “smart” module in your enewsletter that serves one story catering to the recipient’s main interest, based on their persona.
  • Set a custom image in your landing page. For example, in an Ultimate Guide to Pet Adoption landing page, an animal shelter can show “dog people” a dog and “cat people” a cat, increasing conversion rates.
  • Target a social media ad to a persona-based audience, getting more ROI from your ad budget.

It’s all about getting measurable results. If you have an idea for how to personalize a piece of content, do an A/B test, see which version performs better, and make adjustments to get the best results!

5. Make it a goal to segment all of your contacts by persona.

Once you’ve started gathering persona data on forms, your new contacts will come in pre-segmented. But what about all those contacts you gathered before? You can consider using a workflow to segment them based on data you have, such as email address, organization name, content they’ve viewed, or other custom properties you’ve had them populate. To do this, you would create lists based on these properties, then set the workflow to populate the personas property based on list membership.

However, the very best way to segment by personas is for users to self-select the persona that fits them. If you populate that field for them, you run the risk of misinterpreting data and missing the opportunity to connect with them based on their challenges and goals. It’s better to create an ebook or other offer that’s irresistible to large swaths of your audience, across personas, promote it to your persona-less contacts, and get them segmented based on their completion of the form. They get the resource they crave, and you get the data you need to nurture them toward further engagement!

Getting Started with Personas

If you don’t have personas yet, create your nonprofit personas. Keep it simple. We usually start with three of the highest impact personas; the people who will have the most pressing reasons to engage with your organization, or that you need to reach most urgently to reach your goals. Create a document for each persona that highlights their objectives. What’s at the top of their mind? What are their challenges? Where do they go for information and connection? Gather the demographics on your personas that will help you get into their hearts and minds and speak their language. This nonprofit supporter persona template can help you get started.

If you do have personas, update them. Look at the date they were created or last revised. What has changed at your organization in the years since that date? If it was before March 2020, you have a global pandemic to adjust for. If it was in the height of COVID lockdown, you have a partial return to normalcy to adjust for. Many organizations have a new or renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion that must be reflected in your personas. Has your organization launched a new service offering or event? Looking at the personas you have now, do they have new challenges, problems, or demographic shifts to reflect? Get to work and get those updates completed.

Once you have up-to-date personas, and have your marketing automation system set up to use them, you’re on your way to greater marketing ROI for your nonprofit.

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