What are you looking for?

“Everyone” Is Not Your Audience

Posted by on March 9th, 2022
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging   

One common mistake nonprofits make when drafting marketing materials is failing to tailor them to a specific audience. You may think that everyone or the “general public” should know and care about your work. But the reality is that some people will be more receptive to your mission and the specific interaction you seek than others. When you have a limited marketing budget and resources, focus on those key audiences to yield the most engagement and support.

Take the time to articulate the desired outcome of your communications and identify the kind of people with whom your offering will resonate:

  • What are their values? 
  • How do they communicate? 
  • Where do they get their information?
  • How does engaging with your organization make them feel? 
  • What do you want from them? 
  • What do they want from you?

Answering these questions will help you craft messaging that appeals and connects with them. 

Additionally, when you do have a specific target audience in mind, you can shift away from internal speech and ask instead, what does my audience want to hear? And begin tailoring communications effectively to them.

For example, if you run a shelter for neglected pets and your monthly donors are pet owners, take the time to find out what motivates them to give. Are they moved by warm and fuzzy stories of saved animals or propelled by the horrors of animal mistreatment?

On the other hand, maybe your organization focuses on using technology to solve social problems and your target audience includes Silicon Valley executives. These people might appreciate knowing how your organization is innovative, efficient, and impactful—all values prized in their industry. 

If your organization serves people in a particular geographic area and most of your supporters hail from there, you may want to connect with their pride in their community.

One great instance of message tailoring, documented in Chip Heath’s excellent book Made to Stick involved the Texas Department of Transportation’s efforts to put a stop to littering on state highways back in 1985. The creative agency hired for the campaign created a profile of the typical litterer—a native-Texan male truck driver between the ages of 18-35 tossing beer cans out his cab window. By identifying what this target audience cares about most and what emotions drive him—his state pride—the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas” was born, which eventually became the state motto.

Taking the time to understand your audience makes them feel understood…and more likely to take action in support of your work. While everyone is not your audience, those most likely to engage with and support your organization—and feel an emotional connection—will be more inclined to help when you address their needs, values, and interests.

Here are additional resources to help you think about your audience and guide your messaging for greater support and action:


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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