Chances are that terrific brochure you just created for the general public is going to fail. If you are writing something with the purpose of appealing to everyone it will likely be effective with no one.

These one-size-fits-all calls to action are missing the mark if you are not first defining who your audience really is and discovering what matters most to them. The more you can define your audience, the greater your likelihood of developing a message that will reach the right people and more importantly, speak to them directly.

For-profit companies invest considerably in market research, surveys and consumer insights on a continuous basis. Although a vital part of any marketing and communications strategy, nonprofits often have little room in our budgets to conduct any sort of research. The good news is there is lots of free information available that can help nonprofit communicators understand their audience better. Here’s an example of how we tapped into available market research at the Oakville Hospital Foundation.

Canada’s 66 Clusters

One of the best sources our there is from Environics Analytics. Their consumer segmentation profile captures Canada’s diverse population in 66 segments based on demographics, lifestyles and values. They have classified Canada’s neighbourhoods into unique clusters using data from the Census, surveys, and databases to create a complete picture of these groups.

The Toronto Star ran a great thumbnail snapshot of this data that can be found here.

Our audience: Pets & PCs

The largest “lifestyle type” in Canada is a cluster called Pets & PCs. Representing 1 in 20 Canadians, Pets and PCs can be found scattered around the country’s largest cities. The majority are homeowners living in newer subdivisions. Like their name indicates, they have built a lifestyle centred around their children and home life which means loading up their minivans or SUVs and shuttling kids to their games and practices. Their homes are filled with the latest electronic gear and any downtime they have is spent going to kid-friendly destinations close to home. These moms and dads have little time to read a newspaper but are doing a lot on the internet and consider going to a movie a big night out. Not surprisingly, between work and family commitments they feel considerable time stress and express a need for escape.

When we talk about the general public in Canada, the greatest percentage of people will fall into this category which is very reflective of our audience in Oakville. At the Foundation, our best bet to reach a large number of people is to craft messages that speak to this audience.

What “lifestyle type” is most aligned with your nonprofits mission and mandate? Use the insights gleaned from this research to customize your communications for them. But before you start writing, there are three steps you should take first.

 Step 1: Create a Persona

The best way to craft your messages for your target audience is to understand who they are.

What does a Pets and PCs family look like?  The Environics illustration looks like this:


It is a cute graphic but in my mind the family looks like this:


Now that I have a picture in my mind of the audience I am trying to reach I am going to build a persona around this family. This is the Williams family. They live in one of the new subdivisions popping up in north Oakville. Jennifer, the mom, teaches 6th grade and her husband Andrew is an accountant at a consulting firm in downtown Toronto. Their kids are Joshua who is 13 years old and Emily who is almost 11 years old.

Now, fill in some more details about their lives. How do they spend their weekends? What are their likes and dislikes? What is their favourite restaurant, TV show, or place to shop? What issues are important to them?  Who do they trust?

Once you have a good idea of who this family is, now you can start thinking how are you going to reach them:

Step 2: Choose the right channel

Direct mail, print ads, social media, fundraising events – these are just some of the tactics most of us have in our communications toolkit. They are all great ways in getting out our message but we know that some work better with certain audiences. For us to reach Pets and PCs perhaps a traditional direct mail appeal is not the best option. It is likely to end up in the recycling bin unopened along with the free community newspaper they never bothered to read.

Their profile tells us they have little free time so why not reach them in the places they already are? Posters at the community recreation centres or volunteer-led information booth at youth hockey and soccer games are two simple ways to reach them where they are. Local theatre advertising could be a great way to reach this segment and charitable rates make it less expensive than you think. If you do have a budget to buy advertising space, it’s important invest in the right media.

Step 3: Connect with your audience

Now that you have a good idea of what your audience looks like and the best way to reach them, you can start thinking about how can you connect your cause to them. The type of language you use, the length of your copy, even the types of photos you include in any of your print materials will affect whether or not your message resonates with them. Less copy and shorter videos is probably better with the Pets and PCs group. Sharing stories that feature families with young children would also help. Make your message something your audience can easily relate to whether your ask is to donate to your cause or make a behavioural change such as getting more active.

Who is your audience?

Although Pets and PCs is the largest segment of Canadian families, depending on your market it may not be the cluster that best represents your audience. There is an easy way to find out which of the 66 clusters is the most popular in your geographic area. Environics has a free tool available on their website that lets you discover which cluster best describes your neighbourhood.

Click here to find out the profile of your audience and then start developing your ‘general public’ messages to them.

For nonprofits that have a larger geographic scope, consider segmenting your audience and delivering custom messages directed to some of your largest neighbourhood clusters. For instance, you can segment your database by postal code and create different content for letters, newsletters, and e-newsletters depending on your readers. This could be as simple as using different photography or a slight change in the type of language you use if the material is for a younger, suburban group compared to an older, lower middle class cluster. A little time and effort to tweak your message for multiple audiences could make all the difference on whether it is read or not.

Suzanne Hallsworth

Suzanne Hallsworth

VP, Development & Communications at Oakville Hospital Foundation
Suzanne Hallsworth is the VP, Development & Communications for the Oakville Hospital Foundation. In her role, she leads the annual giving, community fundraising, and special events teams and develops marketing communication strategies to help the Foundation reach its fundraising goals. Suzanne has been working in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade following an earlier career in the book publishing industry.
Suzanne Hallsworth
Suzanne Hallsworth