Making the world a better place is a complicated business.

Whether you work in education or at the Salvation Army, it’s never as easy as snapping your fingers and giving people what they need. You’re usually doing your best with limited resources, and any approach that squeezes a little more out of them is worth exploring. In the realm of nonprofits, efficiency is king.

Unfortunately, we’ve found that some of the most basic roads to efficiency are frequently overlooked. We’ve seen in the past, for example, that some organizations don’t make an effort to target a defined demographic. They want to be accessible to anyone who needs them, which is laudable. But there’s significant constructive value that they’re missing out on.

Defining Your Demographic is Important

“I bet all these people could benefit from our organization!”

Without a demographic in mind, your services, program planning, and outreach are all broad-based and nonspecific. This limits your ability to resonate with people who would benefit from what you do. Your message will fly over their heads unless you make it clear why it matters to them in particular.

What’s more, defining your demographic can give you greater insight into what their needs are and how to properly meet them.

Unless you’re one of a very few organizations, you probably have a specialty – you aren’t handling the whole movement on your own. That’s how it works most of the time. You know better than we do how many results come up when you google your field, each filling an important niche.

No matter what kind of work you do, there’s a good chance that other people are working alongside you, making contributions in their own way: A community organizer who makes lives better locally by opening a soup kitchen on the one hand; a team of scientists that helps poorer countries grow food more efficiently on the other.

Without infinite resources, the best thing you can do is maximize your effectiveness in your forte.

We believe that a simple way to make this happen is to tighten the focus of your mission and message together. Find out which people need you, and you’ll be better able to bring them meaningful results.

Let’s break down the whys and hows of this relationship a little more:

Know Thyself

This is the starting point. What exact problem are you out there solving? The better you understand your organization, the better you’ll be able to narrow down who relies on you and why.

So what’s your unique selling point (USP)? What is your area of expertise, the particular impact you’re looking to make?

It’s important to be as specific as possible. Don’t just say, “We offer legal aid.” Say, “We offer legal aid to the elderly.” Maybe you can take it even further: “We specialize in cases of caretaker abuse.”

Don’t just say, “We provide medical assistance.” Say, “We do cancer screenings.” Say, “We help patients research their care options.”

By identifying what makes you different, you make it easier to identify who needs you most.

Define all the possible recipients

Start listing all the different people who benefit from your services. This may be obvious, depending on what your organization does. The legal aid example we used above, for instance, comes with a target audience built in.

But even then, it’s worth a second thought. Maybe you offer assistance to people in difficult financial situations. But can you divide this group into smaller categories than that? Perhaps you see a lot of single parents, or people with medical debt, or people who are unable to work.

These people all have one thing in common – whatever it is that brought them to you.

But they aren’t really all the same. They have different stories, and this means that their needs will not be completely identical.

So think about it. Can you recognize some of the types that your recipients fall into? Think in terms of geography, age, religious belief, marital and financial status, even careers and hobbies. Naming these features will help you develop stronger strategies for reaching the people involved.

Know where the power is

Now that you’ve mapped out yourself and the clientele you want to help, it’s time to map out –  literally – how they get to you. See if you can break down all the steps that lead someone to participate in your organization.

Team mapping out plan

This is important because it isn’t always clear-cut. If you run a school, there are different partners in the decision-making process. You may be trying to recruit students, but you also need to convince their parents that you’re worth the financial commitment. Do you direct your pitch toward one or both?

It isn’t enough to know who uses your services. If you want to reach out to them, you also need to know who else and what else are involved in connecting them with you.

Learn their motivations

What factors are important to your demographic? What priorities do they have to balance? What drives them to act, and what holds them back?

This isn’t just a question of why they need you. This is a deeper look at all the different variables that they have to account for besides you – personal, financial, ideological, emotional.

You can get a fuller picture of whom you’re communicating with by studying trends and even by interviewing current clients.

Once you have all your data, it’s time to sort through it. Take a look at the needs, motivations, and other characteristics that define your clientele. You might be surprised at some of the patterns that emerge. Maybe there’s a common thread that you were never aware of, something that will resonate almost universally. Maybe there are strong distinctions that will prevent you from trying to use the same methods on everyone at once.

This wealth of information will probably suggest a lot of possibilities. Don’t worry, you don’t need to pursue them all. It’s enough to pick out a few significant ones.

Recognizing and addressing one or two specific elements will always be a better strategy than trying to address everyone and everything together.

Your new insights will make every hour and dollar a more fruitful investment than ever before.

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