It’s a common mistake to think honing in on your online audience is about demographics. It’s not. It’s about what your audience is interested in, and why they’ve chosen to engage with your organization. These characteristics can span and defy the typical pigeon holes of age, race, and gender.

When defining your target audience for your digital strategy, focus on two core questions:

1. What values or interests does your audience hold dear?

2. Who are you trying to attract? (Donors, volunteers, or advocates?)

Most people will find your organization online because they’ve performed a search related to the services you offer or the issues you work on. OR they’ve come across your brilliant infographic or impassioned post on social media.

Once they’ve found your org, they’ll decide how to engage. Their engagement may range from lightly browsing your content, to signing a petition, submitting a volunteer application, or even donating.

Values and Interests

When developing an offline marketing plan you might still consider age, gender, race, and location. But online most of those demographics are irrelevant. It’s all about where your audiences are spending time, what they’re searching for, and then matching their values with your messaging.

Carefully defining and understanding your target audiences, helps make sure that your messaging is relevant and gets results.


Who are you trying to engage with? Motivate to action? What tangible actions are of highest value to your organization? Donations? Event Participations? Memberships?

Knowing this helps carve out the right motivators and calls to action and keep your messaging on track. Are you speaking first to donors or potential clients? OR to advocates who will sign your petitions? Maybe you are trying to reach partners or policy makers?

The answers to these questions are closely linked to your overall online strategy objectives and we recommend mapping them out as part of your communication plan.

Convene Your Team

Is your target audience still a little fuzzy? Time to get out the chart paper. We recommend getting your whole team involved in this mapping process. Some departments might think event participants are top priority while others will pick donors.

When it comes to big picture visualization, everyone on your team has something to add. Consider even bringing board members, supporters, and volunteers together to help define your key audiences and the best ways to engage them. You’ll increase their loyalty to your organization while gaining their valuable insight.

After you have developed your list, analyze each audience using these guiding questions:

  • How are they engaging with your organization? Is there a clear and tangible call to action for them? How are you tracking those results?
  • What tone will resonate with them? Warmth? Authority? A clear and strong stand on the issues?
  • How are they finding you? Social media? Google searches? Other networks?
  • What topics/issues/services are most critical for this audience? Which keywords are they likely using in their searches, and how can you integrate these into your content?
  • Which platforms are best for reaching and engaging the audience?

Prioritize Your Audiences

Now that you have identified your key audiences, outline which are the most important to your organization and why. You may want to increase your fundraising or promote your organization’s programs and services. Rank your different audiences against this criteria.

This process will help your team understand both who you’re trying to reach and what you want them to do.

Hopefully it will boil down to something beautifully specific: We’re targeting working-class mothers who predominantly speak Spanish, to make an appointment online to receive services. Or: We’re targeting social-justice-minded, urban/counter-culture individuals, who care about our cause and are willing to sign online petitions and attend grassroots events.

Define Your Message

And now for the fun part. Put the finishing touches on your communication plan and start conceptualizing your campaigns.

Connecting with your audience is key to your organization’s success, whether you are publishing content on your website, posting on social media, or composing hard copy letters and fliers. Once you have a clear picture of who you’re speaking to, you’ll find your message landing more consistently.

Good luck, and happy brainstorming!