“Single, white female” is not a target audience, it’s a creepy movie

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Ask an organization to describe its target audience and you’ll most likely hear some demographics – women between 35 and 44, etc. Knowing the gender and age range of prospects is great when it’s relevant. But sometimes it’s just trivia. People just focus on it because it’s simple information to gather. The key to understanding your audiences lies in psychographic and behavioral segmentation. The demographics can inform your approach like, say, reaching your future supporters through a website devoted to the issues faced by young women in the workplace. But without an assessment of the attitudes, lifestyles and behaviors of your desired/likely supporters, your work is only half-done (if that).

For example, consider you work at an animal shelter and you are conducting an annual fundraising drive and focusing on the aforementioned young females (and, yes,  35 to 44 is young!). On the surface, this makes sense to you because past donors have predominantly been females in that age range. If you fail to dig deeper, however, you may not realize that most of your donors (regardless of age and gender) are people who have adopted a pet from a rescue shelter in the past. And that many of your past donors have been women because most of the people who work and volunteer at your organization are women and you have relied mainly on word of mouth marketing, which means you’ve been asking your friends, which it turns out are mainly young women just like you. Your demographics, in this instance, would have to do with historical outreach, rather than future opportunity. . Because the opportunity for your shelter is to engage potential new donors not based on age and gender, but based on values and behavior— to focus on people who already believe in your mission and think of it every time they look into the furry face of their adopted pet.

I’m not going to say that demographics aren’t important. I am going to say that past behavior and future behavior are connected, and this connection often goes unexplored. So neglecting to evaluate the behavioral trends in current and prospective donor groups is a mistake akin to leaving money on the table – money from people who care about what you do and who want to support your mission if you’d only ask them to.