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Target audience: Focus your communications efforts

 target Audience nonprofit



By Tom Peterson 

Who is your target audience? Each student in my class—marketing for nonprofits and social change at the Clinton School of Public Service—creates a marketing plan for a real organization. They work on it all semester. As the weeks progress we go over their work, and almost every year, no matter what our textbook and I’ve already said, this conversation takes place:

Me: Who are you trying to reach with this effort?

Student: Everyone!

I too often hear nonprofit fundraisers say the same. Naturally, we want everybody who hears of our good work to support our cause. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Marketers know there’s no everybody, no general public. If you try to speak to everyone, you end up speaking to no one. Even if you had unlimited resources to reach everybody, you’re better off focusing.

Depending on your organization, you may need help from a variety of people: members, donors, volunteers to swing hammers, journalists to spread the word, people to attend events, advocates to sign petitions. You may need people to adopt animals, donate old furniture or attend the symphony. Even among financial supporters there are different types: those who can write a large check are different from those who give smaller amounts online or who will only attend the big annual fundraising event. You may have different kinds of volunteers, as well. All of these represent different audiences.

target audience nonprofitWho is your target audience?

How do you narrow down “everybody” to a target audience? First, know what your cause absolutely needs from others to accomplish its mission. Is it funds, publicity, labor, something else? While there are probably many answers, narrow it down the most important one. Meeting this need is the chief goal of your targeted marketing: Our top need that depends on other people is:  _________.

Then list of all of the types of people who can help you reach this need. Your list may be long. But now you’ll need to decide which group is the most important to meeting your goal. This is your target audience. If you’ve done your work well, your cause will be good news to these folks. This is where you’ll want to focus the lion’s share of your communications.

You probably have one or two other mission-critical needs that depend on others. They are not your target market but your secondary markets. They shouldn’t get the same attention as your target audience. From time to time you’ll need to communicate with other audiences, as well. By all means, address their special needs in your communications and on your website, just don’t give them prime real estate; save that space for your target audience. Focus your key efforts on the primary audience.

Understand your target audience as deeply as possible: their age, gender, education level, where they live (demographics); their interests, lifestyles, attitudes (psychographics). Delve deeply into what they care about, what they aspire to. As with any relationship, the more you know them, the better you can communicate.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him [or her] and sells itself,” said Peter Drucker. Try to convince people to support your cause and you will have limited success. But connect your cause’s needs with the right people and you have resonance. And that resonance is the magic that will grow your cause.


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