How to Use Personas to Inform Your Nonprofit’s Website Redesign

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | May 2022

People designing a website together with an icon of a person.

A user persona is a valuable tool to help you engage better with your target audience. They are often used by businesses and brands to pinpoint the "typical" customer. They are equally applicable to nonprofit organizations that want to use the appropriate style and design to maximize engagement. 

What are Personas?

A user persona is a fictional person who represents donors, volunteers, or community members that an organization wants to target. They are usually personified with names and characteristics that are relevant to a brand or organization. If you are a nonprofit focused on environmental issues, you might have a persona such as:

"Joan is a 35-year-old married professional who lives in the suburbs and drives a Toyota Prius. She is concerned about climate change and committed to making green decisions when shopping. She donates 5% of her income to charitable causes." 

Chances are, your organization has more than one type of user. For this reason, it's common to have multiple personas.

Why Create User Personas For Web Design?

Brands often use personas to better understand their customers. However, a persona can also be useful for website design projects. They are also very helpful for nonprofits that must carefully consider the needs of their users when making design choices. A persona helps guide web designers to see things from the users' perspective. This is easier when you can visualize the user as an actual person with specific qualities and needs.

Guide the User Journey

The user journey is the path a visitor takes on a website, which may consist of only one stop (e.g. the homepage) or many. Of course, users all behave differently, so there's no one user journey. Reviewing your website's analytics data gives can offer insight into how your users are navigating through your website. For example, a high number of pages per session combined with a short duration on your site may indicate that people are looking for something and not engaging very deeply with your website. 

Likewise, heatmaps tools such as CrazyEgg can provide more detailed information on where visitors are engaging the most. You don't want the user journey to be random. You want visitors to consume the important information on your site, to be able to easily find what they're looking for and to take action. Personas can play a powerful role in helping you guide the user journey. 

Problems that Result From Not Using a Persona

Not using persona or considering your audience leads to many pitfalls, including:

  • Your web design is designer-centric rather than user-centric. Web designers don't always have the same mentality as the people who will be actually using the website every day. Not only are they more familiar with the website, but they may also be more tech-savvy than the average user. A persona helps to bridge the gap, ensuring that web design is for users.
  • You end up with a design for generic users. If a website is designed for everybody, it isn't really targeted at your targeted audience. This is especially important for niche brands and organizations whose members have specific concerns and needs. A generic look may not offend users, but it won't excite them or motivate them to get involved either. 
    • Prevents you from keeping up with the latest trends. Your user demographics can change over time and brands attract new customers and lose others. Your nonprofit will attract new types of members. For example, Gen Z is the latest generation to enter the workforce. Attracting Gen Z volunteers requires a different approach than attracting Gen Xers. Without personas, it's more difficult to create unique strategies that resonate with specific audiences. 

How to Develop Personas

If you want your user personas to be relevant and useful, you have to make sure that they accurately reflect your audience. The following are some guidelines to keep in mind for developing useful and relevant personas. 

  • Base personas on actual people, not conjecture or guessing. You can do this with analytics, surveys, and by interviewing people and conducting focus groups. 
  • Analytics provide useful data. While not a substitute for talking to people, web analytics tools are good for learning general and demographic information about your visitors, such as gender, age, profession, and location.
  • Study current trends. While it's always best to have data you've personally collected, you can learn about your audience by keeping up with industry or cultural trends. Organizations and data collection companies such as Statista, Philanthropy,.org, and others provide useful data on donating trends, for example. 
  • Connect personas to specific actions, such as a buyer journey (which can be modified for nonprofit organizations). For example, Mike clicks on a link from a tweet and reads a blog post on an issue that interests him. He then watches a short explanatory video on the site and decides to become a donor. Make sure these journeys are tied to data.
  • Regularly reassess and revise your personas. You should never think of a persona as a permanent, fixed entity. They should be constantly re-evaluated and updated based on the latest data and experience. Just as people evolve and grow, so will your personas. 


How to Use Personas to Inform Web Design

Most discussions of user personas are focused on understanding customers' buying behavior. It's worth looking more closely at how personas can be used for web design decisions. Web design plays a crucial role in user experience or UX. Some UX issues, such as page loading speed, really apply to all users. However, certain personas are especially concerned with particular UX and web design issues. 

Tailor Your CTA to Personas

The calls to action on your site should be based on personas.  If you're seeking new members and donations, for example, you can emphasize the issues your persona cares about the most, as in "Join today to help find a cure/help famine victims/save the rainforests, etc."

Use Personas to Inform Sitemaps

A sitemap is a useful tool to help users navigate your site, giving them a comprehensive view of your content. Consider which pages are essential to your users and make sure these are featured. On the other hand, if certain pages are not important to your audience, they can be a distraction and you may be better off discarding them. 

Use Personas to Guide Your Wireframes

A wireframe serves as a blueprint for your site and helps you align the design with your objectives. Your persona can guide you as you set up the elements of your pages in a way that appeals to your audience, being sure to include the type of content they are seeking. The wireframe also helps you stay on track by making your site functional and useful for your users. 

Tailor Design Features to Your Personas

  • Are features such as fonts, colors, and graphics suitable for your audience? Bright colors and trendy GIFs might appeal to Millennial Mary but less to Boomer Bob.  
  • Language requirements. Do your visitors speak languages other than English?
  • Accessibility. Accessibility issues can impact the user journey. For example, if your persona is older, larger fonts and greater color contrasts are recommended. Important features such as forms should be keyboard accessible for users who aren't able to use a mouse. We recommend always prioritizing accessibility and inclusive design. 

Personas Should Drive Your Content Strategy

Your content must be aligned to the needs of your persona. This is an area where you can easily cater to multiple personas. Perhaps Kathy wants in-depth blog posts talking about important news and trends while Doug prefers brief posts that summarize issues. 

Using Personas Will Improve Your Website

Creating user personas is definitely worth the time and energy. It helps make web redesigns more effective and ensures that your efforts are aimed at end-users. 

Not sure where to start? We can help! ArcStone provides web design, SEO, and other services for thoughtful brands and nonprofits for over twenty-five years. Contact us today

Topics: Design and Technology