Aha! Using Personas to Write Better Appeals

You may be familiar with the term persona or avatar. It’s a marketing term that gets used a lot in the content marketing realm. It is especially useful for fundraisers. It’s more that just segmenting, which divides your donors using different kinds of data. This takes the data and fleshes it out into one powerful (albeit imaginary) individual.

What is a persona?

We all know when we’re writing an appeal, we’re writing to one person. So, who is that person? Is it a man or a woman? What does he/she look like? Does she have children? Do the children play sports? Maybe soccer practices start really early in the morning, and she drives her son in her blue Dodge Caravan, stopping for a Starbucks green tea (she doesn’t drink coffee). Maybe she finds it somewhat annoying to have to be up so early on a Saturday, but she loves her son and wants him to be involved in team sports. She thinks all kids should have that chance. She thinks a lot about it on cold mornings, warming her hands on her tea as she watches. Maybe she’s even been considering donating to a charity that works with kids and sports (an organisation just like yours!), but she is hesitant because she wants to make sure that the kids who really need it the most are getting support with high quality programming that involves their parents, too.

A persona is a representation of your audience – a fleshed out version of one imaginary person who represents to “you” in that appeal you’re writing. Your organisation should have several, representing the different kinds of supporters and stakeholders you are reaching out to. It’s taking that stick figure pencil sketch and creating a real person.


When I was a kid, my mom used to partake in writing those long-winded generic yet overly informative photocopied family Christmas updates. She would always struggle because there were some things she’d love to tell her brother Brad, a thirty-something with a love for a great dirty limerick about Santa, that simply weren’t appropriate for her aunt Theresa, who was a born again Evangelical.

While it’s likely never a good idea to include dirty limericks in your appeals, you wouldn’t write the same letter to Brad as you would to Theresa – they gave and are likely to give for different reasons. To create a relationship with your donors, you need to get personal. PersonaL minus Limericks = persona. See what I did there?


You’ve probably got a lot of data, and you’re likely already putting it to good use in terms of segmenting. Watch Colludo for a worksheet to help you get started, but in the meantime here are some tips to create personas.

1) Collect your data. Hopefully you’ve already got some – if not, get some! Get your database in shape, get data from other sources (Google!), and start talking to people (surveys, interviews, etc.) The persona is imaginary, but not made up out of thin air.

2) Start painting. Based on your research, start creating that persona. Give the person a real name. Create specifics based on demographic (age, sex, location, age) information as well as emotional/philosophical details (religion? political affiliation? connection to your cause?)

3) Pinpoint the pain point. What motivates this person? What is holding this person back? Anticipate the persona’s questions for you and learn to answer them. Pinpoint the “pain point” – what problem do they have, what challenges are they facing, what’s the biggest setback to giving to your organisation? Walk them through the pain points to action.

4) Involve your staff. These personas should be used organisation-wide. If Barb is a persona created for someone who is both receiving services and donating to the cause, Barb’s name should be on the lips of program staff and fundraisers.

5) Test, test, test and change. Barb might not be as successful as she could be, or perhaps Barb no longer resonates. As with any tool, only use it while it’s useful.

I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you currently use personas in your organisation? Would you like to start? I can help!