Audience: Know Your Reader Before You Write
Who is your audience? You must answer that question before you write.
A client had just invested considerable resources in developing a package for one segment of his mailing list – his advertisers. The piece was gorgeous: a full color, glossy magazine, with excellent content directed at people who provide services to teenagers.
“Let’s send it to our whole mailing list!” he said excitedly. “It’s so impressive!”
Unfortunately, the other segments of my client’s list weren’t interested in advertising services. Instead, they cared about what programming we provided for teens.
In his state of euphoria over the mailing’s look and feel, my client was about to violate a cardinal rule in nonprofit copywriting: “Write to your reader.”
Know Your Reader
Did I stop him? Of course … by asking some of the questions from the list below.
When we got to #12 (“What do your supporters care about?”), my client gulped. The bulk of his mailing list cared about events we provided for local teenagers. We were able to develop a donor mailing that opened the door for additional gifts to support more events.
Each project, to be successful, needs to target its readers. The best way to do that is to create a composite profile of your audience -- the project’s average reader -- and write to that individual personally.
It takes some research to know your audience. But it’s not hard when you know the right questions to ask. Here’s how: every time you start a new project, go through this checklist. Some questions may be irrelevant to a particular piece. But others will clearly show what makes your audience for this piece so distinctive and how you can target your project to his interests, feelings and needs.
Basic Information about Your Reader
is your reader’s median age?
is your average reader’s gender?
is your average reader’s marital status?
your average reader have children?
is your average reader’s education?
- How is
your average reader employed?
- What are your reader's beliefs, world view, core values?
is your average reader’s annual income?
your average reader own his own home?
are your reader’s special interests?
Your Reader’s Relationship With Your Organization
the reader donated to your organization in the past?
- What does
your reader care about?
- Is the
reader a service provider?
do your service providers want to know about?
- Is the
reader part of your competition?
- Is the
reader a prospect?
Use this fillable, reusable Target Audience Finder to identify the ideal reader for a piece of content.
Your Reader’s Response Habits
long has the reader been on your mailing list?
- Is the
reader used to receiving additional mailings, such as organization
newsletters, thank you letters or e-mail updates?
long has the average reader in the segment supported your organization?
the reader respond to additional appeals (prayer support, volunteering,
in-kind gifts, premiums?)
the reader respond to interactive devices (sign and return cards, surveys,
the reader respond to new programs or products?
the reader respond to sponsorship appeals?
the reader respond to anecdote-based appeals?
the reader respond to capital campaign appeals (for buildings, roads,
the reader respond to emergency appeals (natural disasters, war, famine,
Your Reader’s Giving History
- Is the
reader an active donor?
- Is the
reader a past donor but now inactive?
many times has donor responded in the last twelve months?
appeal(s) did the donor respond to?
was the amount of the last gift?
recent was the last gift?
was the largest past gift?
was the smallest past gift?
the donor respond most often at a particular time of year?
the donor give systematically (monthly or quarterly) or only for special
Your Reader’s Other Habits
other causes does the potential donor support?
do those causes have in common with your organization?
“hot buttons” does your organization have in common with those causes?
the potential donor support other causes systematically or for special
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