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Identifying your donors’ common characteristics can help you you both acquire new donors and retain and upgrade the ones you have.

In the marketing world, businesses spend a lot of time developing the "archetype” of their customer, i.e., identifying their typical customer. This helps them better understand their customers, why they buy from that business (and not someone else), and what things in their life drive their purchases. That information enables businesses to run better ads, target the right demographics, and more.

In fundraising, your “customer” (for this exercise at least) is your donor. Can you realize the same benefits as a standard business by identifying your archetypal donor?

There are a few ways to think through this question.

The first is empirically. If you are a larger organization, you probably have enough donors giving between $1,000 and $100,000 each year to be able to identify your typical donor by looking for overlapping traits. Each of your gift officers should think through their caseload and identify their donors’ common characteristics. What do they do for a living? What is their passion in life? Where do they live? What is their connection to your mission? Are they married? With kids? Religious? And so on.

From there, collect your gift officers’ findings and create a profile of your archetypal donor. The profile will identify demographic information, professional history, giving interests, religious identification, and so on.

With all of these characteristics you are, by necessity, generalizing. So, don’t let yourself get too caught up in the specifics and look for points of common interest. If faith, for example, is not a common characteristic, don’t list it.

If you are a younger organization, with relatively few donors or perhaps one or two lead donors, you should still consider their characteristics. However, you also have some discovery to do. This is where figuring out your archetypal donor intersects with prospect research. Ask yourself, what sort of organizations are in our space that we are allies or competitors with? Get specific here: if you are an organization that does legal work for a very specific issue, don’t look at just any other legal org, look at those doing work on that issue or issues closely related to it.

From there, find out who those organizations’ donors are and what their archetype is. You can do this by scanning annual reports, searching them in iWave, perusing their website for board members and donor testimonials, and other ways.

Again, once you have done this, create a profile of the type of donor you are looking for. Handily, you will also have identified at least a few donors who are serving on the board of or giving to organizations similar to your own.

Finally, you may find you have multiple archetypes, which is okay. Because major gifts fundraising is so reliant on relationships, gift officers can adjust their approach for different audiences when necessary. Especially if you have a variety of programs, you might find that one archetype is particularly interested in one program and one interested in another. That being said, especially for mail and digital programs, it’s important to identify one slightly broader archetype. Remember, this exercise is not meant to lock your donors in a box. Its purpose is to help you better communicate with them.

At the end of the day, this exercise can be used for a variety of purposes. In particular, I think you will find that it helps you identify donor prospects, select better mailing lists, write more compelling direct mail letters and emails, run a better digital acquisition program, and more. Overall, it is an exercise that helps you both acquire new donors and retain and upgrade the ones you have.

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