The health of your association depends on driving membership and engaging existing members. Developing a thoughtful growth strategy is essential for success and requires a keen understanding of your audience.

Developing Audience Personas: How to Get Started

For years, for-profit companies and brands have gained audience insights by developing composite sketches of distinct audience groups called customer personas. Personas can help create content that’s valuable, relevant and engaging. So, if personas offer such valuable insights, why do most associations and nonprofits skip this critical step? Below are just a couple of reasons.

  1. Associations and nonprofits are typically short-staffed or rely heavily on volunteers. If a project isn’t deemed “critical”, the board probably won’t approve.
  2. Organizations don’t think of their audiences as consumers. But actually, for-profit and non-profit audiences are more similar than they are different. After all, they are both consumers – whether a person’s buying something from an online store or engaging in membership, the actions are similar.

Creating audience personas doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Here’s the process in 7 simple steps.

7 Steps to Create Audience Personas

1. Identify your key stakeholders and participants.

Who is critical to the health of your association? What kind of people are you trying to recruit? Think of this in terms of members, staff, vendors, and sponsors. While the core purpose of your association is serving members, the additional players, like staff, vendors, and sponsors, have a distinct and critical role as well.

2. Review member data to establish vertical

Review your database to look for patterns based on roles, attributes, and goals. From there, create groupings. This helps ensure that your interviews include individuals who interact with your association in different ways – think members versus staff.

3. Recruit 3-5 individuals from each vertical

Call or email those individuals and tell them your goals for the interview and describe the process so they understand what to expect. Be sure and tell them that you’ll be recording the interview. Schedule 30-minute calls with the individuals who opt-in.

4. Create Appropriate Interview Questions

Now that you’ve established who you’ll interview, it’s time to come up with the right questions. Below are some sample questions.

  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • What is your job role?
  • What are your goals?
  • What are your pain points?
  • Describe your typical interaction with our association.
  • Do you use our website?
  • What do you like/dislike about our website or content?
  • How do you usually browse the internet? From a desktop computer, tablet, phone?
  • What websites do you use frequently? Publications and blogs?
  • What apps do you frequently use? What do you like about them?
  • What social networks do you participate in?

5. Conduct interview

Yes, this means talking to actual people! Rather than making assumptions, let your community members guide you. Keep your interviews conversational and let them flow. That’s where you’ll get most of the “good stuff.”

If interviews are impractical because there are too many people to reach, audience surveys work well too.

6. Take Detailed Notes

Transcribe the interviews so you can easily spot patterns and important attributes. Distill each transcript down to a one-page fictional character that includes demographic, behavioral information, goals, typical interactions, challenges and digital habits.

7. Use Personas to Guide your Strategy

Now that you have fleshed-out audience personas, you’ll be able to tailor your association’s messaging, content and engagement campaigns to reach new and existing audiences.

Audience Persona: An Example

To help you draft up your audience personas, we’re including a short example for your benefit.

Association: American Engineers Administrators Association

Persona: Mary Johnson, Meetings and Event Manager for an Engineering Firm

Demographics: Mid 30s, Technically Savvy, Go-Getter, Mother, Planner

Goals: Help company plan and execute events, create a memorable experience for attendees, be a resource to engineers by providing networking opportunities

Digital Habits: Accesses content through mobile device, participates in online communities and utilizes online industry resources to better communicate with her audience

Member Needs: Because Mary is a busy professional who’s always on the go, she needs a mobile-friendly, simple interface to access association documents, pay dues online, easily register for events and participate in a community forum or group that provides insight into industry trends

Getting started can be the hardest part – that’s why we’re here to help! Our parent company, ArcStone, is a full-service digital agency. Contact me at to set up a free consult.


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