How Better Understanding Your Audience Helps You Recruit New Supporters

In Episode 52 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast, Jenny Crabtree of Navigate Fundraising shared her recipe for successful individual giving. Today we want to look at one of those ingredients – knowing your audience.

This is crucial. If you don’t understand what your audiences cares about, then you can’t give them a clear, emotional and passionate reason to give to you.

So how can you identify and understand your audience?

Below are three of the methods we teach on the Individual Giving Mastery Programme that will run again in November 2021. Jenny and Craig are also hosting a taster webinar on Thursday 23rd September where they are going to take a look at the current state of individual giving acquisition. You can register for free here.

1. Talk to your audience

The obvious starting point is talking to your existing supporters.

Find excuses to have conversations with supporters – this could be at an event, when you’re calling to thank someone or at a meeting.

People love talking about themselves. Asking them to share their story and reasons for giving can give a level of insight that you’d struggle to find on the database. You won’t need to talk to many people for common themes to emerge – what values, beliefs and connection do they have to your cause? What is their motivation for supporting you?

Listening attentively and taking notes can reveal a level of insight that can really help you tell your story and inspire people to give. In fact, we recommend you have a notebook with you to make notes and jot down comments from supporters (nb this is a great tip for if you talk to beneficiaries or front-line staff too).

Share your findings with colleagues too. See how your observations contrast. Look for common themes and always keep your supporter in mind. Perhaps even take a leaf out of Crisis’ book and have an empty chair in your meeting to represent the supporter, so you keep their needs at the forefront of your mind.

You can also do research more formally via one-to-one interviews. These are easy to do over the phone or on Zoom and it is amazing how willing people are to help. Each interview takes around 30 minutes and you can ask a structured series of questions to uncover nuggets of information that you can bring into your individual giving.

Craig shares a free guide to supporter interviews, including an example script to download, on his blog.

2. Beyond transactional information and demographics

One of the phrases that sends a shudder down our spine is ‘we need to recruit younger donors’ – this is almost a guaranteed way to lose money. The main reason is a simple one. If you’re over 40, then think back to your 20s. Were you flush with cash or furiously saving for a home or big occasion?

The same point goes to people who say we need to recruit Millennials or Gen Z and use lazy stereotypes to define these groups. There is a growing body of research that shows the thinking behind defining characteristics of generations is flawed.

A simple thought experiment should evidence this. Think back to school. Look around your classmates. Did you all think, dress, act the same? Of course not, but this is what targeting on demographics is doing.

Fortunately there is a better way. You can take all the information you’ve acquired from talking to supporters and start thinking about the values and beliefs that underpin their support. These are the difference that matter and where you need to put your time to understand. Once you’ve identified at least two different potential audiences, we recommend using empathy mapping to help you understand the thoughts and feelings of a group of supporters about your cause. You can then use this to help develop messaging for each of your groups.

Empathy mapping puts you into your supporters’ shoes and gets you to reflect on what they think, feel, say and do.

For example, earlier in the year Craig and colleagues worked with the National History Museum to raise money for a virtual concert. One of the first things we did was identify four different groups of potential concert attendees. We then used empathy mapping to understand why they might want to attend and donate to the concert. Were they attending because they loved the music, wanted to support the museum, cared about the environment or wanted to involve their children in an event?

By developing offers and ads targeted at these different reasons for attending, we were able to recruit thousands of people to the concert at a low cost per acquisition. In total, the concert raised over £100,000 from individuals against an initial target of £50,000. Taking the time to understand our different groups of supporters through empathy mapping was a big part of this success.

3. Know Your Enemy

If you know the positive reasons why your audience supports you, then there are likely to be negative reasons too. Knowing these is also important. Not to play on fears or exploit people, but to invite people to solve the problems and challenges our beneficiary group face.

Campaigners have known for a long time that sign-ups to petitions increase when you name a single target rather than a generic ‘government’ or ‘industry’ – it makes things more concrete and easier to imagine.

The author Blair Warren is emphatic about the reasons why people feel moved to take action. He observes:

“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.’

We’ve seen this in action over the summer with the out-pouring of support for the RNLI. When they were attacked for helping migrants at sea their supporters rallied round to defend their work. People spontaneously started to donate in their thousands. A crowdfunder was even formed to name a hovercraft after the worst offender and raised over £120,000!

This was supporters sticking up two fingers at their enemies.

So knowing the enemy your different audiences want to defeat can really help you develop messages and fundraising campaigns that work.

Of course, our enemies are often metaphorical, rather than human. They can be the disease we’re trying to cure, global warming, cruelty to animals, poverty etc.

Helping your audience to throw rocks and defeat your enemy is a sure-fire way to find new supporters.

Want to know more? Join our free webinar or IG Mastery Course

Identifying and understanding your audience is one of the crucial ingredients in the recipe for great individual giving. When we’ve studied charities and campaigns that have successfully raised money, all of them know and understand their audience.

Of course, this is only the beginning. You still need to create campaigns that work, and then work hard to retain their support. We’ll cover all this, and much more, in the fourth Individual Giving Mastery Programme which begins in November.

If you want to grow your Individual Giving and upskill your charity in this area, then we’d love to welcome you to this popular course.

Want a further taster? Sign up now for Craig and Jenny’s free webinar on Thursday 23 September where they’ll be discussing the state of donor acquisition in 2021 and sharing tips to help you in this area.