The nonprofit roadmap for personalizing online experiences

April 1, 2024
min read
The nonprofit roadmap for personalizing online experiences

A personalized online experience is tailored to each user’s unique needs and interests, providing customized pathways based on their distinctive characteristics. Personalized marketing not only engages your audience on a deeper level—visitors increasingly expect this type of interaction with their favorite nonprofits. 

According to research from McKinsey, 71% of consumers expect brands to deliver personalized experiences, and 76% are frustrated when they don’t receive them.

With this in mind, we’ve created the definitive nonprofit roadmap for creating personalized online experiences for your supporters. Follow this pathway to help improve your site’s user experience and maybe even join the ranks of the best nonprofit websites.

A roadmap graphic showing each step of the nonprofit online personalization process (explained in the text below)

Gather user data

Start by gathering information about your nonprofit’s website users. Who are they? How do they currently use your website? What preferences do they have for online engagement?

Collect this information using tools like:

  • Your CRM. Your nonprofit’s CRM contains valuable donor data that can help reveal your audience’s preferences. Each donor profile may contain information about donors’ demographics, giving levels, preferred communication channels, and history of involvement with your nonprofit.
  • Website analytics and heatmaps. Solutions like Google Analytics and online heatmaps can help you understand how your audience currently engages with your website. Consider using analytics solutions embedded within your CMS ecosystem to establish embedded monitoring mechanisms. For example, WordPress offers a variety of analytics tools and heatmap plugins like MonsterInsights, WP Statistics, and Hotjar that make it simple to assess relevant engagement metrics. 
  • User surveys. Gather information from past supporter surveys, whether conducted online or in person. Website users may have provided more in-depth information in these surveys that can give you a more well-rounded view of your audience. 

You may also have other databases at your disposal to pull supporter data from. For example, Bloomerang’s nonprofit software guide lists fundraising, prospect research, events, and auction software as potential platforms your organization may use. Compile data from these sources to help get a more robust picture of your current audience. 

Build audience personas

An audience persona is a fictionalized character representing a real segment of your nonprofit’s audience. Personas can help personalize online experiences by allowing you to understand your audience’s needs on a deeper level and design content that resonates with their interests. 

For example, Kanopi’s healthcare content marketing guide recommends including these details for each persona you create: 

  • Name
  • Demographics (age, job, location)
  • Motivation for using your website
  • Accessibility needs
  • Common pain points in their user journey/reasons why they bounce from your website
  • Messaging/content strategy to connect with the persona and increase their engagement with your site

The more details you add to each persona, the better you can bring them to life, and the easier time you’ll have designing relevant content for each group. 

We suggest building three to five personas for your primary online audiences. For nonprofits, these main user groups tend to usually be donors, volunteers, beneficiaries, corporate sponsors, and other community members looking for information relevant to your organization’s mission. Depending on your nonprofit’s unique services and offerings, your personas could differ slightly, so think carefully about your core user groups. 

Map out the user journey

Once you’ve finalized your user personas, you’re ready to build personalized pathways to guide each segment through your website and help them find the information or resources they need. This process is called the user journey, and it encompasses everything from using your website’s navigation system to completing forms and engaging with interactive content on your site. 

Take these steps to map out user journeys for each persona: 

  • Create streamlined user pathways using clear navigation. Use your main menu and other navigation devices to guide users toward their end goal. For example, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America website offers an “I am” homepage navigation button that allows users to select which audience segment best applies to them, whether they’re parents, teens, educators, etc. This is a convenient way to easily guide users toward information and resources that are most applicable to their needs. 
  • Offer personalized CTAs based on user intent. Design calls to action (CTAs) that are relevant to each persona’s intended actions. For example, the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation website has a variety of CTAs for different donor audiences. Their “Ways to Give” menu item features options like monthly donations, stock donations, employer gift matches, and cryptocurrency donations
  • Provide each persona with content relevant to their interests and needs. Different audiences will be interested in different types of web content. For example, a donor might be interested in blog posts about how donations support your nonprofit’s gardening program, while a volunteer might like to read about how the spring planting season is going. Use your website’s blog to offer a variety of content to appeal to each core audience. 

Every user journey should have a clear end path with the next action website visitors can take. For donors, that may involve viewing your digital donor wall to see their names listed and exploring additional giving opportunities. For prospective volunteers, the journey may include viewing your volunteer event calendar and registering for an opportunity. Give each audience segment the opportunity to engage with your organization via activities you know they’re already interested in. 

Incorporate dynamic website content

Once you’ve built your foundational user pathways, you can expand your personalization efforts into innovative new territories to further engage your audience. Dynamic website content is an exciting new avenue for nonprofits looking to tailor the online experience to each individual beyond their overarching personas. 

Dynamic content changes in response to a user’s behaviors or preferences. The possibilities are nearly limitless. One of the most effective ways organizations can leverage this content is by offering visitors personalized content suggestions based on their past website visits. 

For example, users could see different homepage CTAs based on whether they’ve donated to your organization or not. A visitor who hasn’t yet donated might receive a CTA saying “Donate today to make a difference.” On the other hand, someone who has already donated could see a CTA saying “Read how donations change the lives of community members.” These personalized messages consider each individual’s history with your organization to present targeted messages that align with their interests. 

You could also use dynamic content to offer website visitors specific donation options based on their past payment choices or giving pages they’ve visited. For example, visitors who have spent significant time reading a blog post about legacy giving could see a version of your “ways to give" page with planned and legacy giving options featured more prominently at the top. On the other hand, those who have engaged with content about donating stocks might see that giving option featured more prominently. 

Dynamic content can be technically complex to create, so it’s typically best to work with a web design professional to develop dynamic content. An expert can create a custom solution to meet your nonprofit’s exact specifications. 

Also, keep in mind that many website visitors will be excited to see content that aligns with their interests, but not all users will feel comfortable with this level of personalization. Give visitors the option to opt out of data collection and dynamic content and respect their wishes by not continuing to track their online behavior. 

Test and iterate

The final stop on your personalization roadmap is to test and adjust your strategy as needed to refine your efforts over time. Let audience feedback from your nonprofit’s community guide your testing process. The following types of feedback will provide a well-rounded view of your efforts: 

  • User feedback. Run A/B tests with different website elements to assess which versions your audience responds best to. You can also gather user input via surveys embedded into your site or in-person focus groups. 
  • Analytics and heatmaps. Just like at the beginning of the information-gathering process, you should assess your website’s analytics and user heatmaps to understand the impact of your personalization efforts. Track website metrics such as engagement and conversion rates to understand how your highest-value website pages are performing. 
  • Accessibility testing. Don’t neglect accessibility in the personalization process. Continually test your website using automated and manual accessibility testing, and be sure to ask about accessibility in your user feedback surveys. 

Consider website personalization as a circular process, with continuous testing and iterations as you mitigate issues and build upon previous successes. Make user feedback and site updates part of your supporter stewardship plan—building an engaging, user-friendly website will help you recruit new supporters and strengthen your relationships with existing audience members. 

This roadmap will provide the structure you need to continually gather user data, refine your personas and user journeys, and deliver uniquely personalized experiences that exceed visitor expectations. Adjust each step to your nonprofit’s unique audience to design an online experience personalized to their needs and interests.

FreeWill can help you raise more and end your marketing journeys on a high note.