How to use empathy maps to think like your donors

by Hannah Kallady
September 4, 2020

Connecting with donors is as important as ever in our digitally-connected world. 76% of consumers now expect companies to understand their needs and expectations, and 61% expect brands to tailor experiences based on their preferences.

One way to better understand your donors is by building an empathy map.

An empathy map is a tool commonly used by marketers and product teams to visualise or articulate the things we know about our supporters.

We typically start with a grid that captures key pieces of information about your donors or supporters. Our template looks like this:

Empathy map template

Empathy map template. Source: ntegrity

We use these to brainstorm key pieces of information about a particular audience segment.

This information should go beyond demographic information (such as where your supporters live or how much they earn) and focus on psychographics: getting to the bottom of how they think and feel, their habits, what drives them and what their pain points are.

At ntegrity, we then refine this empathy map brainstorm into a one-page artefact that highlights the key elements of the customer group that are relevant to the marketing team. This might include:

  • What’s top of mind for the audience, and their key pain points

  • Their value proposition, or why they should engage with you

  • Key messages to use

  • Channels to reach this audience

An empathy map is different from a persona

It’s important to note that an empathy map is not the same as a marketing persona. A persona is a fictional representation of the real attributes exhibited by one of your target audiences. It tends to tell a more specific story about who is in a particular segment, while an empathy map is more generalised.

Customer persona

Source: DMA. A persona is more specific than an empathy map

Usually in product development, a persona comes before an empathy map. While personas are very valuable, we’ve found that empathy maps can be a more effective and user-friendly brainstorming tool. This is especially true when working with teams who are less familiar with the process.

When we create personas first, we can get stuck on “that one person we know”, rather than considering all the possible information about a particular group. An empathy map depersonalises the process, allowing us to take a step back and capture more of the information we need to make effective marketing decisions.

Knowing your audience is the first step in building a strategy that works

Striking a chord with your supporters is as important as ever. Thanks to the rise in digital over the past decade, we’ve seen huge changes in consumer behaviour. Your supporters now have all the information they need at their fingertips, and are empowered to make choices based on what’s best for them.

In short: in the old marketing world, brands had the power. Now, customers have the power.

Because of this, we must ensure we know our customers well and build our strategy around their wants and needs.

Brainstorming about your consumers helps you uncover things you might not have considered before.

It’s also possible that you might not be focusing on the things that matter to your supporters**.**

Sometimes, we make assumptions about the best way to tell the story of why we’re trustworthy and why our supporters should choose us. Empathy maps help us go beyond our usual ways of talking to find messages and approaches that will really resonate with our supporters.

Here’s an example: many not-for-profit employment services focus on their status as a not-for-profit, believing that this will build trust. But at the end of the day, the clients care most about who will be the best at helping them gain employment.

Before jumping into your marketing strategy, make sure you undergo this exercise to really understand what resonates with your customers. And if you need a hand, feel free to reach out to one of our not-for-profit strategy experts.

To build your empathy map, start by researching your consumers and work collaboratively with your team

We create empathy maps in four stages:

  1. Research your customers

  2. Identify the most strategic segmentation

  3. Create collaboratively

  4. Refine into artefacts that make marketing easier

1. Research your customers

The first step to understanding your customers is to gather data in order to build an evidence-driven view of who they are and what matters to them. This ensures we’re not grounding our empathy maps purely in assumption.

Some key ways you can research your supporters include:

  • Reviewing any existing supporter research that has been done (such as interviews or surveys), or conducting your own. This is one of the most valuable ways to gather insights as you’ll hear them directly from the mouths of your supporters or customers. Focus on people’s reasons for choosing you, what they were looking to solve, how they found out about you and what made them cross the line. Make sure you speak to a range of supporters, and try to validate your interview findings with a wider group in a survey.

  • Looking into your email database and segmenting based on how they’re engaging (e.g. how recently they’ve donated, how often they donate and how much they donate) or how many touchpoints it takes for your supporters to convert.

  • Using online tools, such as Facebook Audience Insights or social media ‘listening’ tools to understand where and how they engage online, and what they’re talking about

  • Reviewing data on your own channels to see who you’re currently engaging with, what they’re most interested in (by looking at top-performing content), and what is most likely to drive action

2. Identify the most strategic segmentation

Once you’ve found some key data points on your audience, identify groups that you’ll create empathy maps for. Use your research to guide your segmentation, but also consider:

    • Whether or not you can target the group: That is, do they have common interests or characteristics that I can target on digital or offline channels? For example, you might target people who read the Harvard Business Review, or people who are interested in environmental causes on Facebook.

    • Ensuring your groups have similar needs: Generally, your group should have common characteristics so you can tailor your message and creative in a way that will resonate with them as a whole. For example, if you’re a health charity, you will need to consider segmenting researchers vs. patients

    • The profitability or priority of the group: You need to choose the groups that are most important to your organisation, those that have the highest opportunity or quick wins. Remember you’re expending time and budget to reach this group, so consider whether or not you will be able to get a return on your investment

3. Create collaboratively

It’s important to ensure that empathy maps aren’t created in isolation. You must draw insights from multiple staff and teams who know your customers well. This should include people who speak directly to your customers, such as call center staff or face-to-face representatives.

You can run this process through a workshop, using the grid above or an online workshopping tool like MURAL (we’ve done this a lot in 2020, and it has been great!).

MURAL board

Source: MURAL. Work collaboratively to build out your empathy map.

4. Refine into artefacts that make marketing easier

Once you’ve completed your empathy map, refine it into a final product to make them useful for the the implementing team.

The most valuable pieces of information to include are:

  • A summary of what’s top of mind for this group: so you remember their context as you create content.

  • Top pain points: to help you create content that’s more resonant and relatable.

  • An audience value proposition: a statement that sums up why the group engages with your organisation. Why should they engage with you? What do you offer that they can’t get elsewhere? This should directly link back to their context and pain points.

  • Key messages: specific messages that unpack the value proposition that you can use across collateral and marketing.

  • Channels they’re on: so we remember where we can reach and engage with them.

Here’s an example of an empathy map:

If you need help building your digital marketing strategy, ntegrity has worked with hundreds of not-for-profits across Australia to do just that! Reach out to us, we’re happy to chat.