How Writing for One Can Invigorate Your Nonprofit Marketing

February 19, 2010

I’m in the midst of re-reading Ken Burnett’s marvelous book, “Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money.”

One of my favorite things about “Relationship Fundraising” is that Ken prefaces every chapter with a “Donor Profile,” an in-depth story about one particular individual and how and why they give. Each profile describes in depth a particular donor’s day to day life, his/her likes and dislikes, the kind of car that he/she drives, even his/her upbringing.


What we fundraisers often forget is that the “who is so much more important than the what.”

We’ll spend hours crafting our mission statement or our organization’s story – without giving the slightest thought to the person who is reading it!

And, while a natural disaster may bring out nearly everyone’s humanitarianism (I don’t know anyone who didn’t give something to a Haiti relief agency), you will strengthen your development efforts by spending some time really getting to know your donors.

One direct marketer I follow goes so far as to attempt to whittle down your ideal client – in our case, this would be our most loyal and dedicated donor – and she refers to that individual as your “tarquet.”

Do what Ken Burnett does and truly envision that person. What they do for a living, what they wear, where they live, how many children they have, where they worship – give that person a name!

Here’s an example: Years ago I worked with a small nonprofit organization with a dual mission: they provided inner-city middle school children with the tools they needed to go beyond their oppressive public school education and go on to scholarships at private schools or the city’s best magnet schools, and eventually college. The programming was taught by talented high school and college students, which, in turn, drew talented teachers into urban education where they were most needed. A definite win-win.

After reviewing a sampling of our most loyal donors, when I envisioned this agency’s “tarquet,” I arrived at “Lisa”, a 47-year-old woman with a masters degree in political science. Lisa didn’t grow up in the area but moved here with her husband for his career. She considers herself a progressive and an environmentalist and believes in the importance of giving back. Lisa and her husband enjoy a relatively affluent lifestyle and live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Their eldest son is in his junior year at Berkeley and their daughter is in her junior year at the local public high school. She drives a Honda Civic hybrid and shops at Whole Foods. Lisa volunteers for three organizations and serves on two boards. “Lisa” was not a real donor. She was an amalgamation of what I knew about a solid handful of our donors, board members, and volunteers. I gave her a name and a picture and a story. And when I wrote, I wrote directly to Lisa.

How would you identify your organization’s “tarquet?”  Download my free template and spend some time envisioning your “tarquet.”  Defining your donor will go a long ways toward clarifying your fundraising writing.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Schwartz January 20, 2011 at 10:24 am

Pamela, you are so on “tarquet” here.

Creating personas is the official name for the process you describe above and it’s a priceless way to get to understand your organization’s community.

I always recommend that folks dig even deeper – to flesh out who are the influencers for their target, what her days are like, her preferences in terms of accessing info and taking action, her values (key element – the point of connection is made only when there’s a values match between your organization’s values, and hers).

And there’s one small addition that can make a huge difference – add a photo of your target and keep her in mind, just as you do a dear friend.

Pamela Grow January 20, 2011 at 10:30 am

Exactly! Thanks for fleshing this out further Nancy. Writing to a “dear friend” is key in effective nonprofit copywriting.

Jennifer March 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Pamela, I love the understanding that comes from picturing your ideal donor. How much did “Lisa” give the agency each year? How many times a year did she give?

Pamela Grow March 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Lisa actually became a board member and a major donor.

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