Getting into our supporters shoes

A guest blog by Claire Leslie.

Today the housing crisis is getting worse, with more than 98 households being evicted every day. Shelter must raise significantly more income to be able to provide help and support to homeless families that need us – as well as to campaign for better housing provision.

To improve how we communicate with out supporters we wanted to consider what we know about the real people who give to Shelter.

We wanted to get into the shoes of our supporters. Our objective was to help us understand what our fundraising could be like if we really put our supporters needs at the centre. And we wanted to enjoy the process and engage the whole individual giving team because we knew in order to really offer our supporters the best experience everyone had to be on board.

Our data insight team produces a supporter profile report each month. It contains detailed demographics and graphs. We chose to focus on these 6 groups from the report:

  • Supporters who have given a cash gift recently
  • Regular givers who have stopped giving
  • Campaigners who sign petitions to lobby government on housing issues
  • Participants in our challenge events like the London Marathon
  • People who have pledged to leave a gift to us in their will
  • Supporters who give gifts of £300-£3,000.

Bringing insight to life

To bring to life insight from our team beyond what was in our report, we wanted to find an exercise for small groups.

We put the team into groups and asked each group to write a persona (like a pen portrait) for two types of supporters, by filling in the gaps in the template, and cutting photos of people and strapline to represent the supporter who typifies the group.

What we discovered

  1. Looking at donors simply by their giving patterns is not the most useful way to think about them as real people. For example, the top-line demographics for our active cash, pledgers and active campaigners look very similar but our supporters may vary a lot in their outlook and motivations for supporting Shelter. Some groupings such as lapsed regular givers are made up of such a variety of types of people that it’s impossible to sum them up in a persona.
  2. We realised just how hard it is to take ourselves out the picture when we were talking about what our supporters are like. We kept saying “I like, I think that, I would want” or overlaying someone we know who is like that person in some way, in the absence of any real information about their motivations, likes, dislikes.
  3. It was a creative experience! Our team loved cutting out photos from the magazines and newspapers to illustrate the points we were making, naming the person and their hobbies. We made up a lot of colourful details.

The biggest take home was that the exercise made us want to find out more about our supporters. We wanted to have real qualitative research to fall back on for true supporter insights. We’re currently working on new strategies for our individual giving teams and this will form part of our insight. We’re now even keener to find out about why our supporters chose to give because when we know why they give, we can make sure our communications are relevant to the issues around homelessness that they are interested in.

All in all, we will become more supporter driven and focused, this was a very useful, helpful and fun exercise to help us start on this journey.

Claire Leslie is Senior Direct Marketing Executive at Shelter. Claire is passionate about sharing client stories that show supporters why their gifts are important, and when not working loves hosting games nights and going to indie gigs.

To download the persona template, go to and check out the Leadership Launchpad.

One Comment on “Getting into our supporters shoes

  1. Thank you Clare!

    As I read, I first thought, this is a very clear and logical ‘how to’ blog, which it is, and for which well done! But then ‘What we discovered’.

    My take-away is that too often, in the third sector, we do not have access to, know about, or use people who are professional pollsters, as in NCVO, Nfp Synergy, DSC or Open Data Institute, to help us in our research.

    My research projects in the 1970’s when working at Cadbury’s could not have happened without my firstly, having learned basic research methods in my, then, Diploma in Missionary Nursing at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago in 1959-62 and then having access to R&D and Operational Research professionals (with their statistics backgrounds) at Cadbury’s 1970’s. My thirst for research then lead me to ‘Master’s in Public Health’ 1979 with a statistician as my supervisor … so valuable. That all came very useful in 2006-7, when as elected Executive member, I had to arrange reporting of services and commission polls for L B Hounslow.

    Options for third sector groups to access statistical and methodological help do not have to be outrageously expensive. Professional pollsters will often already have useful statistics available to show where would be a useful place to start, which may well not be at the basic starter level.

    Even if you discussions with professional pollsters do not immediately lead to contracts with them, they may well ‘down the road’. Sometimes a group of organisations could come together to sponsor some questions. That can make it ‘money well spent’.

    I have followed the Open Data Institute for some time I joined free, this month! One can attend their Friday lectures at Clifton Street London EC2, at no charge, and other events, free or at low cost. Great opportunities to network with people ‘in the know’!

    Wonderful opportunities, ‘low hanging fruit’, let us in the third sector enjoy it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *