46 min Read
January 3, 2018

Market research for fundraisers

Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s CEO, recently hosted a webinar on how nonprofit fundraising and communications staff can use market research to their advantage. During the webinar, Sarah outlined several ways nonprofits can use this valuable tool as a way to gauge audience awareness, donor likelihood, and more, and provided resources to help organizations start conducting their own research.  If you missed the webinar you can watch it here, or read the transcribed version below.

Hey, everybody. Happy Wednesday. This is Sarah Durham at Big Duck. Or is it Thursday? I’m going to turn on my webcam just for a second. I’m kind of playing around here with the GoToWebinar technologies just to say hello to everybody. Thank you for logging in today to talk about fundraising and market research in a particularly busy December. We’re going to get started in a minute, but before we dig into the content for today, I want to just flag a couple of things for housekeeping.

The first is if at any point during this webinar you are having any technical problems, the best thing to do is to email my fearless colleague, Kayla. Her email address is [email protected]. You’ll see her email in your chat box. You can email Kayla, and even give her your phone number if that’s useful, and she will help you navigate any technical challenges.

I also want to apologize because we have had some glitches with GoToWebinar this past week or two. We actually have two webinars, this one and another one coming up in January that I’ll tell you about a little bit later, where a lot of people got accidentally notified for both. If you signed up for both webinars, I apologize. If you got multiple messages, if you just signed up for one, and you got emails about the other one, I apologize. We’re doing our best to sort it out, but we appreciate you bearing with us and our technical issues.

I’m also recording today’s webinar. We will send out a couple of days from now some follow-up materials on this so you can have it for reference. Let’s dig in.

The format today, as is typical of webinars, is we’re going to do this for about an hour, and I’m going to speed through this content. I’m going to throw a lot of information at your pretty quickly and leave some time in the end, the last 15, maybe 20 minutes, for comments, Q&A, and discussion. But I also want to really encourage you along the way to chat in any questions or comments that you have. I probably won’t tackle your questions on the fly. I’m going to save them for the end, but I encourage you to chat in your questions as you have them so that they are fresh. I’ll do my best to get to them towards the end of the presentation.

For those of you who don’t know Big Duck, we are a communicates firm that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations. We help nonprofits develop their voices. Particularly, we work with organizations experiencing significant growth and change. We do that by working in three core areas. We help nonprofits develop strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong teams.

Much of our work developing strong brands and strong campaigns happens one-on-one with individual organizations, but this webinar is an example of some of the resources we provide to help nonprofits build strong teams. We’re very aware of, and interested in, helping nonprofits build their internal capacity so that staff people like you can feel empowered to run communications optimally within your organization.

I hope this webinar is useful. There are a lot of other resources we have like this webinar that are free and some low-cost resources I hope you’ll avail yourself of if you’re looking for support. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you want to hear more about our work one-on-one with campaigns or brands.

If we haven’t met, hello. My name is Sarah Durham. I’m the CEO and founder of Big Duck. You can find me online at @BigDuckSarah on Twitter. You can find my bio on our website.

Today we’re talking about market research because it’s, I would say, an underutilized, but really, really valuable piece of gathering information that you can do to get better as you try to engage and communicate with your donors. In the international world, if you go to the EU, or you travel internationally, or maybe you go to the International Fundraising Congress Conference, you’ll see that around the world, many nonprofits actually invest a lot more than U.S. nonprofits typically do in doing market research to really understand who their donors are and what they care about.

Market research in the context we’re going to discuss today is really about getting to know your donors so that you can engage them in ways that are personally meaningful to them. You can’t really do that unless you take a little bit of time to understand who they are and what makes them tick.

What I hope to do is give you a basic framework that you can use to think about who your donors might be and to try to quantify how they perceive you in ways that go beyond just using your gut. My experience is that most nonprofits meet their donors at events, or maybe in email, or other places, and they form a gut impression of who they are. What I’m hoping to do today is spark some new ways that you can go from that gut into a more qualified and quantified way of understanding who they are and why they care.

Let’s talk about what market research can and can’t do before we dig into the theory. First of all, it can help you quantify where people are. It can help you start to form donor profiles or user personas, sometimes they’re called. I’m going to show you some examples of those today that are put to use by nonprofits. It can also help you really back up those gut feelings you have about who your donors are with some substantive fact. That will help you communicate more on your donors’ terms, less in organization-centric terms.

But I also want to caveat that any research can actually be potentially misleading. We’re often looking at a snapshot when we do research. As you start to formulate theories based on research or based on gut, it’s always important to test those theories, so always take any research you do with a grain of salt.

The way that I see research is that research gives you data. Data helps you create insights. Those insights should inform the actions you take. Those actions hopefully garner positive results. What most organizations end up doing is starting with a gut that’s informed action and then hopefully achieves results. This is a different workflow for how you do it.

I’ll give you a quick example of what I mean. Years ago, we were working on a rebrand for an organization whose target audience were rabbis and cantors. This was right probably about a year after, maybe six months after, Facebook made the leap from being something that college students used towards something that a lot of people were using beyond the college community.

At the time, our client was pretty confident that the rabbis and cantors they needed to communicate with were not using social media. But as part of the work we were doing, we held some focus groups. We did some other surveys of rabbis and cantors. We asked them a series of questions, but one of the things we started to ask them about was the channels and tools they used to communicate with their target audiences, with the communities they served, for instance. One of the insights we gleaned from that research was that they were actually overwhelmingly using social media. In fact, they were early adopters of social media.

The reason we found out they were early adopters was that whenever they perceived there to be a new channel or tool that their members or their constituents were on, they felt they needed to be there, too. They were actually more likely to get on Twitter quickly or more likely to use Facebook than some other audiences might be. That’s an example of a little piece of research that actually had profound implications for this organization in terms of how they were going to communicate with their target audience, in that case programmatically.

Let’s think about how you might use research. I would encourage you to use these dualities to frame your thinking today as you jot down notes about what might be a good idea for your organization. One way to do research is on an ongoing basis. Make a commitment to survey lists, or to do outreach once a year, once every six months, once every two years. Many organizations who invest in research do it more episodically. Maybe every five years before you do strategic planning or something. What will be the timing or the pulse of how regularly you might want to do research?

Secondly, what can you budget? Are you going to make incremental budgetary decisions, like every year you’ll spend X dollars on research? Or are you going to build it in as a big event once every few years? Are you going to do primary research, meaning your own research that you initiate, or are you going to use secondary research, meaning looking at data that’s already out there? For instance, you might look at the Pew Internet & American Life studies to shape your perspectives.

Will you do qualitative research or quantitative research? Quantitative research typically involves surveying or other methodologies that allow you to get a sampling size of over 300 or more that could be hopefully statistically valid. Qualitative is more like interviews or focus groups, things where you hear more of an individual’s perspective.

Are you going to do that research yourself or are you going to hire a pro to do it? I want to flag that Big Duck is not a market research firm. When we’re working with an organization that is serious about doing research on a big scale, and has to do it really, really right, we always encourage you to hire specialists in that.

But we work with a lot of clients who actually do a great job doing their own research in pretty down and dirty, scrappy ways. They facilitate their own focus groups. They conduct their own surveys. While it’s not perfect, I would definitely say it’s better than nothing. It’s a great way to start to build your chops and become more dextrous at listening to those donors that you’re trying to engage.

With that, I want to introduce a piece of theory called the ladder of engagement. We’re going to use the ladder of engagement to frame the way we think about market research today. There are lots of ways to think about it, but this is just one way to try to look at where research can be conducted, and what the implications of doing research are at different levels.

You’ll notice that the ladder of engagement starts with the idea that there are a whole group of people out there who are unaware of your organization. They are not your donors. They are out in the wilderness. We might wonder who they are. If, for instance, you’re a community-based organization, the unaware might be all the people who live in your community who could potentially support your work.

The next step in the ladder of engagement are observers. These are people who may have heard of you. They might be familiar with you in some way, but they’re not yet donating. They might be lurking on your website or maybe even starting to think about coming to your events, but they haven’t yet actually raised their hand. We probably don’t have their email address yet. It’s challenging to know exactly who they are. We’re going to look at ways to capture some data about that group.

The next level up are supporters. These are people who have already raised their hand in some way. Maybe they’ve come to an event. Maybe they’ve made a donation. Maybe they’ve signed a pledge. They’ve taken some sort of an action. Usually with our supporters, we start to have some information on them, maybe their email address or their name.

Finally, we have advocates. Advocates are at the top of our ladder of engagement because they’re not just interested in what you have to offer them. They’re actually ready to help you. They might be the kind of people who buy a table at the gala or they might be a board member. They’re actually able to identify and advocate on behalf of your organization to bring other people into the ladder of engagement.

Obviously, as fundraisers, our job is to try to move as many people as possible up the ladder of engagement towards becoming advocates. But what we’re going to do today is we’re going to start at the bottom, and we’re going to look at some of the ways that you can first conduct market research, and then what you can do with that market research to try to inspire people to move up your ladder of engagement.

Starting at the bottom with those people who are unaware, I think one of the reasons this is an interesting group to quantify is that 61% of people who give say they prefer to give to well-known nonprofits, not necessarily the most effective. A lot of organizations are interested in increasing visibility or raising awareness in abstract terms, but I would actually argue that it is good to be better known, not necessarily be a best-kept secret or hidden gem. Because you’re starting to prime people to have some name recognition for your organization that is going to help them move up the ladder of engagement a little bit faster. You want to get on their radar, but before we can get on their radar, we have to know a little bit about who they are so that we’re communicating in more specific ways. By-the-way, that is a quote that comes from this report, The Money for Good 2015 report the Camber Collective put out, if you’d like to look that up.

To learn about those unaware people, they are in some ways the hardest people to try to quantify because we don’t yet know who they are. We don’t know who your prospects are. Typically, we want to do some quantitative research, and oftentimes we might look at secondary research, for instance, census data that will tell us how many people live in a particular community, if you’re a community-based organization. But it often can get expensive to try to identify who the unaware are.

In our experience, the most effective way to do it is usually through public opinion polling. There are lots of ways to do public opinion polling from participating in an omnibus to doing your own very customized research. You may have experienced this if you’ve ever been intercepted on the street by a researcher. Sometimes that’s kind of a form of public opinion polling.

I want to show you an example of a question you might ask that comes from a research tool we created called the Brandraising Benchmark, which we’ll talk about a little bit later. The kind of questions you might ask to measure just general awareness is something like, “What best explains your connection to X?” X would be your organization. Here, we’re using a pretend organization called Scope Rock. If this were a digital survey, the array of answers might be ranging from, “I’ve never heard of this organization,” to, “I’ve heard of them, but I don’t know what they do,” to, “I’m familiar with them, but I’ve never donated,” to, “I’ve donated.”

On this tool, in the Brandraising Benchmark, which I’ll go over in detail at the end of this webinar, what we’re trying to do is actually capture what we call net awareness, meaning how many people claim some level of awareness about an organization. That’s very useful because increasingly we are seeing nonprofits set objectives in their strategic plans around raising awareness. If your board says, “In 2018, we really have to raise awareness,” doing something like this, polling the unaware, will give you a benchmark of what your current level of awareness is. That will help you go back and repeat that metric to learn if you’ve actually raised awareness.

If in the beginning of 2018, you have as an organization 20% awareness, and then you go back and you repeat that research a year later, or two years later, maybe after you’ve launched an awareness campaign, you should see that number move. That’s how you can actually quantify whether you’ve achieved that objective of raising awareness.

I want to give you one example from an organization that’s a client of ours, who has polled the public a few different times. They’ve done it through a number of tools. Omnibus surveys are surveys where your questions get added on to other organization’s questions, or other businesses’ questions, and they’ve done that. They’ve all participated in our Brandraising Benchmark.

All of the research that they’ve done collectively has indicated to them that they have significant room for growth in their brand awareness, but that when they actually share their mission with people who are unaware, people like their mission. Their mission resonates. That actually, if people have heard of them and liked their mission, they’re very likely to make a donation. That’s been very helpful for them to quantify the idea that if they could raise more awareness, they’d probably be in a much stronger position to turn some of those unaware and observers into donors quickly.

If you’ve got some way to quantify who is out there who is unaware, and how they feel about you, what kinds of awareness percentages you have, you can use some of these tools to begin to move them up the ladder of engagement. Because we don’t just want to know how many people are aware or unaware of you. We actually want to obviously spark them to take action.

Because they are unaware, because we don’t have their email address, we have to use what I like to call push communication, meaning we have to go to them. We have to reach them through earned and paid media, through campaigns or petitions, through hashtags, through things that usually your communications and your marketing team are responsible for doing that raise broad awareness.

It is my belief that the marketing and communications team is in this case in the business of chumming the water, so that the fundraisers can go fishing. That all the fish start to pay attention and swim over to the boat. The fundraising team has the ability to then go fishing. It’s kind of a crass metaphor, I suppose.

Oftentimes, I’m sure you will see Facebook ads or you will see search engine ads fed to you in Google that are examples of organizations trying to reach people who they believe to be in their target demographics, and move them up the ladder of engagement. This is an example of a Facebook ad from the Bronx Zoo. This is a shot from a campaign that we worked on that was an awareness-raising ad for an organization that was trying to move the needle on a particular health issue.

The next step in our ladder of engagement are those observers. These are the people who are perhaps lurking. Maybe they’ve heard of you, but they have not yet made a gift. Our job as communicators and our job as fundraising experts is to try to learn who they are, and what makes them tick, and inspire them to raise their hands and tell us more, to take an action or give.

How can you learn who they are? Well, first of all, look at your Google Analytics. Your Google Analytics on your website should start to give you a sense of what pages are being visited and what kinds of actions people might be taking. Where are they coming into your website? Where are they leaving? You can look at specific pages and start to glean a little bit a sense of traffic. Now, not everybody who is on your website is going to potentially be a donor, but this is just one mechanism we’ve got.

We’ve also got social monitoring. We can start to monitor hashtags. We actually have a client who did a piece of research with a market research firm where they analyzed the profiles of about 150 people who followed their organization and used this analysis of these followers to create some prospect personas. You can also use Facebook Insights. There is a lot of really interesting data that Facebook has that you can start to use to compare to your list.

This slide is a little blurry, but I’ll hopefully be able to talk you through it in a way you can understand. One of our clients had a list of people that they weren’t sure who they were. It was a list that they had aggregated over a couple of touchpoints at events. We uploaded it into Facebook Insights as if we were about to advertise in Facebook. We actually didn’t advertise. We just loaded this list in.

One of the features that Facebook has is this lookalike feature where before you place an ad, they’ll analyze who’s on your list using their email addresses. They can connect those email addresses to who they know uses Facebook. By doing that, they can tell you a little bit about who is on your list and they can also help you identify lookalikes. If you’ve got a list that you’ve got some access to, and you think some of these people might be prospective donors, you can upload into Facebook Insights and you’ll get all kinds of information.

In this case, for instance, this is just one slice of the women who are on this list. We can see from this that they are 23% more likely to be married than most people on Facebook. We can tell that they fit a persona that Facebook calls fashionistas. They’re very much a fashionista list; also, a working-class mom list.

By uploading this list into Facebook Insights, this organization was able to begin to form a sense of who these prospective donors are. With that, they could begin, and you can begin, to move people up the ladder by starting to speak in their language, starting to talk about things that might be interesting or relevant for them, and giving them calls to action.

One of the best that any organization, no matter how big or small can use, is a welcome series. On your website, we create lots of reasons why people should sign up or give you their email address. Then the minute they take an action and they give up their email address, you can give them a welcome series. You can send them an email welcoming them in, inviting them to take other actions, and communicating with them proactively so that they start to learn who you are and why they should engage with you.

Here’s an example of this from an organization we worked with in 2017 called Corporate Accountability. You can see here this was in advance of Giving Tuesday. They talked about a match. They had a call to action, “Give to protect public water.” This was a call to action to make a donation.

They also have on their website, and a lot of organizations I think do this really well, some terrific content that is gated. Meaning, before you can get this 2017 Nights of Action for Climate Justice toolkit, you are going to give your email address. You’re going to update their website with your email address, download the toolkit, and now they can start to get a sense of who you are.

Some organizations balk at the idea of gating content. I think you have to be really sensitive and thoughtful about what you gate. Obviously, if you’re gating content that is central to your mission or mission critical, it’s not going to help advance the mission. You want to be careful to gate only content that is not central to the execution of your mission.

One of my favorite examples of that comes from the Coast Guard Foundation. Coast Guard Foundation does a lot of important work and one of the things they have identified from doing some market research is that their donor prospects are quite likely to be boat owners who are concerned with safety. Obviously, if you’re yachting or sailing and you get into trouble, you’re going to call the Coast Guard for help.

They worked with the Coast Guard to create this boating safety guide, which is like a checklist and all kinds of things you, as a recreational sailor, can use. In order to get this boating safety guide or the equipment and departure checklist, you have to give up your email list. This is a robust way to build their list that actually is content that is audience-centric. It’s interesting to the people they’re trying to reach.

I want to also emphasize that what I’ve seen most organizations do as an incentive to have people who visit your website give up their email address is just offer a free newsletter. Most organizations will have on every page, or most pages, a, “Sign up for our newsletter,” call to action.

While that’s great, I think it’s important to highlight that these days, we are all so bombarded by email, that actually giving up your email address is something of a quandary for some people because you know when you do that, you’re going to be just getting a lot more email. This kind of gated content, something that’s really audience-centric, is like an exchange: “You’ll give me this content, and in exchange for that, I will give you my email address, and I invite you to begin to communicate with me.” I would encourage you to think about what you’re doing on your website that is worth your audience’s giving up their email address for. What are you providing them with that is an incentive for them to lower the drawbridge and let you come in and start messaging to them?

That’s really what we have to begin to do to move those observers up our ladder of engagement and get them, hopefully, to start to become supporters, to start to take actions on our behalf. That action, we hope, will be making a gift, but it might be taking some sort of action before they’ve made a gift. It might be that they become supporters first by attending an event, and buying something small, or maybe they sign a pledge, maybe they are sharing your content. They’re moving towards becoming a donor.

How do we learn about our supporters? One of the great things about supporters is that most of the time we have their email address by this time. Usually, somewhere, I’ll just go back to a previous slide, usually somewhere between observers and supporters, somewhere around observers is when we start to capture email addresses. When we’ve got an email address, we can actually start to send pull messages, meaning messages that pull them to get to know us better. A welcome series is one example of that.

How do we learn about our supporters and what inspires them? Well, the easiest way to do it is to survey them. Although, we also have the ability to interview them at events, to do one-on-one interviews, to organize focus groups. The challenge with supporters is how much is enough? Should you be polling them or asking them to give you feedback on who they are and how they perceive you annually, every few years? Generally, I would say for most organizations, once a year is plenty. Maybe even less frequently than that. The odds that your support list is going to change dramatically in their perceptions of you year to year is relatively slim unless you’re in an organization that’s highly affected by external landscape variables.

But one of the great opportunities when you poll your supporters is to understand not only how they perceive you, but also how they want you to communicate with them. That’s because one of the reasons donors say they are not coming back is because the organization didn’t proactively communicate with them. Asking, “How would you like us to communicate with you; What are the social media tools that you use most frequently,” things like that will give you the ability to tailor your communications in a way that is hopefully responsive to where they are.

Now, I would be careful when you survey them to not ask them questions that you’re not prepared to carry out. For instance, if you ask a question like, “How often would you like us to email you,” the recipient is going to expect you to then follow whatever they say. If they say once a year, you have to be prepared to only email them once a year. I would encourage you to not ask questions unless you are prepared to carry out the request of the donor in that response.

Here are another insights from a client of ours who has a really nice practice of surveying their own lists. They found that when they surveyed their list, which I think they do every year or two, they found that it became clearer and clearer why they were unique, why their donors supported them, and who else their donors also supported, what they thought was unique about this organization in particular that deserved their support. They also got a much clearer sense of the channels and the frequency that their donors wanted from them. While they didn’t overhaul it overnight, they actually did start to move towards that.

If you can do both polling and surveying, like measuring the bottom of the ladder of engagement and the top of the ladder of engagement, you start to get a much more three-dimensional perspective, which is going to really be useful as you try to make a case to decision-makers about how you may want to communicate differently, or what kind of work you should be doing in communications in the future. For one of our clients doing that, it really informs the need to rebrand the organization. It sets some really critical baselines that they could start to use in their strategic plan objectives.

One of our clients is Wildlife Conservation Society. They are a very large organization who went through a very, very deep market research process with a big company called Wolff Olins a few years ago. They did this around strategic planning and in advance of some rebranding work they did. I had their permission to share with you a couple of the slides from Wolff Olins that will give you a sense of, if you are a larger organization, and you engage a big market research firm, what kind of research you might do.

I want to caution that this is the kind of research, in my experience, only really large organizations do. They don’t do it regularly. It’s too expensive. They do it once every three years, once every five years, when they have a special budget, usually in advance of strategic planning so that they can inform a lot of that work.

You can see here there were lots of methodologies they used, lots of people they reached. From all that research, they started to try to get their arms around the mindsets of their funders. What were the driving perspectives of their funders?

They also did consumer research because they have the Central Park Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, a number of parks and zoos throughout New York City. They were able to do much more one-on-one online surveying of what they called consumers. Even asked some people to complete more ethnographic studies, like completing online journals and things like that.

Out of all of this, they started to create mindsets and profiles of the types of people who are their donors. I’m just going to share with you very quickly two of their examples that came from this research.

One was this persona of somebody who is a thinker and an activist. You can see on the slide that this type of persona is fierce and independent, but with a strong pack mentality. They use these great animal stand-ins for each of them. This is a person who has other brands that she feels an affinity for like Whole Foods, or Etsy, or Fab. You get a sense of what kind of person this is. You can imagine if you were trying to move these types of donors or these types of consumers up your ladder of engagement, you might communicate to them in ways that spark these interests or reference these interests and beliefs that they have.

That is contrast to a different kind of persona they created, the feeler purist. Again, similar three-dimensional perspective on who this prospective donor might be.

When you have research about your supporters … And I want to emphasize you don’t have to do what they did. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on extensive market research. You, if you have a list, have the power to survey your list. You have the ability to use tools like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang and things like that to survey them.

Then you can start to move your supporters up your ladder of engagement. This is where that proactive communication is so important because we know that donors are not coming back sometimes because we’ve under-communicated, so report back to them.

I serve on the board of an organization called the National Brain Tumor Society. Today in the mail, I got a 2017 progress report. That’s a great report back to a supporter that gives me, as a donor, a sense of what’s been going on in the organization, what my money has been funding.

Then getting more personal, as you have staff capacity, with things like segmentation. Generally, my experience is that if you work in a smaller organization, or you have a very small development team, segmentation is really hard to do. But as you start to build your muscles, and as you build a bigger team, and you’ve got the right technology in place, you can start to segment, and start to communicate with people in ways that reflect what makes them uniquely interested in your organization.

A couple of the tactics that people often use to move supporters up their ladder of engagement include personalized communication. Conservation International is an organization that has a practice of regularly handwriting notes to donors to thank them for making a gift. Often, we see people who’ve got a demonstrated track record of donating year over year can be inspired to become peer-to-peer fundraisers.

On the right side of the screen, you’ll see a Crowdrise screenshot from my colleague, Farra, who is vice president here at Big Duck, who is on the board of NTEN, the nonprofit technology network. She does a lot of great peer-to-peer fundraising where she’s trying to engage other people to support NTEN by creating teams and inspiring people to take action, things like that. Those are great ways to take a supporter who has shown commitment and try to spark them to move up the ladder of engagement and become an advocate.

Obviously, advocates are the thing we all want more of. We want people who are fans of the organization and willing to take action on the organization’s behalf. How do we learn more about them? In some ways, they are the easiest people to get to know because you probably have personal relationships with them. They are likely to be already regularly attending your events, regularly communicating with you. Maybe they’re even on your board or on a working committee.

Often, as you learn about them, this work is done very much through qualitative measures, usually conversations. The higher somebody is up on your ladder of engagement, the more communication becomes really personal, and the more we start to see these people as individuals rather than as profiles.

As we have a sense of somebody who is emerging as an advocate, we want to make sure to give them some personalized touches, some things that make them feel special, and make them feel seen. The obvious thing to do is to give these people leadership roles, but I would just caution you to not, once somebody has a demonstrated track record, to not treat them like everybody else, because that’s where they’ll feel misunderstood or not well-seen.

I want to share some research resources for you. I’m seeing a couple of the questions that are coming in are about tools for nonprofits of different sizes. I think really what holds most people back from doing market research is either not having a budget to do it or not knowing where to start. I want to share a couple of resources that, if you have some budget, are worth investigating.

The first is the Harris EquiTrend Study, which is the largest brand-tracking study in the U.S. It’s not just for nonprofits, but there are nonprofits like Make a Wish Foundation, who regularly participate in it. That cost roughly $15,000 to participate in.

Omnibus polling, which you can do through a number of different market research firms, costs roughly about $6,000 to put somewhere between two and maybe four questions into a public opinion poll. The costs that affect omnibus polling have to do with how niche or how specific the market you’re trying to reach is.

For instance, if you participate in a national omnibus, where you’re happy to poll anybody who identifies as an American, that’s going to cost a lot less than if you say you want to poll only people who live in a particular ZIP code, who have a household income over a certain amount. The more specific you are about the audience you want to poll, the more the research firm has to work hard to find those people. Therefore, the cost can go up. But $6,000 is a good ballpark budget for participation in a lot of polls.

There’s a study that I actually haven’t looked at very closely yet, but I’ve heard about it from two organizations that a company called Mintel does called Attitude Towards Charities and Nonprofits. They did a study about a year ago, so this would be secondary research, that you can buy for about $4,000 I’m told. Essentially, this isn’t going to be research into how people perceive your organization, but it’s going to be research about how people perceive charities and nonprofits generally that might help you start to shape some layers of dimension into your existing perspectives.

Big Duck has a tool called Brandraising Benchmark. I’m going to walk through that in a minute in case that’s a good fit for you. That costs right now $2,000 in our early-bird phase. It goes up to, I think, $2,200. It’s a very low-cost way to poll the public, but the one we’re doing coming up is only for national organizations.

Then, finally, there’s bespoke research. What I mean by bespoke is just custom research, research where you hire a market research firm to dig in and do custom research for you. My experience with our clients who have done custom research is they spend as little as $25,000 on custom research and as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’ve had a few clients who have spent really quite a lot of money on market research. Obviously, if you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’re not going to do it every year. You’re going to do it very occasionally and you really want to do it deeply so you get a lot of information you can use.

Before you set that budget, and you start to go forward with some market research, how are you going to know if you’re successful? I think it’s really, really important to be very clear what you want to get out of the research before you go into it. Because you can kind of get lost asking questions. It’s all interesting, but how is it actually going to shape insights that you can put into action?

As a fundraiser, there are a number of metrics that you might already be thinking about around retention rate, or dollars raised, or things like that, that you can use if you’re just looking at your own list, how your list performs. But you might, if you’re thinking about trying to reach and pull people who are unaware or observers, think about setting a goal like you want to get enough information about how they perceive you to set a target for raising awareness. Or maybe you want to capture some information about what else they’re interested in. You can create more donor personas that are more dimensional. Really spend some time talking to your team about that in the beginning so that you can use it to inform your fundraising best practices like your donor pyramid or setting different targets for growth.

I want to take one more minute and talk you very briefly through the Brandraising Benchmark. While I’m doing this, feel free to chat in more questions, because we’re going to pivot in a minute into Q&A.

The Brandraising Benchmark is coming up. I think we’re going to do the next one in late January or in February. This is a piece of research that Big Duck does collaboratively with Ipsos. Ipsos is the global market research leader. It’s a national poll where we are asking a series of questions. We’re doing this research on behalf of a number of nonprofits at any one time, so the cost to each organization is lower.

The questions we’re asking are the same for all organizations. Then we give each organization all the demographics of who participated. It’s usually 1,000 people taking the survey online. We give the organizations raw data, so you can start to slice and dice it. You can look at how people in a particular region perceive you or people with household incomes of a certain amount perceive you.

Then we ask a series of questions that allow us to develop four scores. The first is that awareness question I showed you earlier. We ask people to explain their relationship to the organization. We are able to glean from that a claimed level of awareness. We call it a net awareness score. We’re also able to compare. If 15 different organizations are in the Benchmark together, we can tell each organization how they stack up to the others in their group.

This is an example using 15 made-up nonprofits just to protect the confidentiality of the people who have participated. You would see where you stack up in the cohort of other nonprofits in the group.

We also ask a question of our participants about, “How important is the mission of this organization to you?” They can answer from not at all important to extremely important. This generates what we call a mission affinity score. We actually slice the information to look at how people who’ve heard of you before feel about your mission versus people who have never heard of you before, which is an interesting thing because we often see that mission affinity changes as people get to know you.

We ask a question about donor likelihood: “Based on everything you know about this organization, how likely would you be to donate in the future?” We also slice that by looking at the people who specifically said they were aware before. Usually, again, if they’ve been aware of you already for a while, they’re more likely to give, but we want to check that.

Lastly, we ask a question about, “How likely would you be to join this organization if membership were an option?” We look at how membership likelihood compares among people who are aware of you previously versus people who are just learning about you through this survey. From all of that, we assemble a series of insights that are based on the data we captured and industry best practices, all of that.

If the Benchmark sounds of interest to you, if you think it might be something that’s a good fit for your organization, and you’re an organization that’s trying to reach people nationally, I just chatted out a link to it. There’s more information on our website and you can email [email protected] if you’ve got any questions about that, or if you’d like to participate, we’ll get you what you need.

Before we switch over to questions, I want to flag two things coming up. Keep those questions coming in. It looks like we’ve got a bunch already. We have a free webinar that is January. I invited a really smart guy named Steven Shattuck, who works at Bloomerang, to give a webinar on donor retention. I’ve seen Steven give this presentation and it’s really smart and helpful. It feels like with a new year this is a great time to be thinking about how to retain those donors. I hope you will consider logging in for that.

We also have Farra Trompeter, Big Duck’s fearless vice president, giving an all-day workshop on creating a donor communications plan. This is a day at the Foundation Center, it’s not virtual, on January 12. This is a paid workshop. The idea is for you to walk out of this workshop with essentially jumpstarting your 2018 donor communications plan. We’ll give you a PowerPoint deck, and a spreadsheet, and a lot of tools you can use to actually map out the whole year and start running.

We also have on our website a lot of free ebooks on communications topics. This is one about the successful ingredients that high-performing communications teams have. Another one we just released on brand architecture.

With that, we’ve got about 12 minutes to go. I’m going to try to take some of your questions. The first question is, “We’re a small organization, budget around half a million dollars, but we have donors from around the country. How do we know where to start to gauge awareness or who to target for PR? The potential audience is too big.”

Yes, I agree. If you’re a small organization with a small budget, I think you have to be careful how much money you spend on market research. But one of the things I would encourage you to do is to take your existing list of supporters and upload it into maybe Facebook Insights to start to get a sense of who those people are. Start to try to learn who is already supporting your organization. That may start to be a jumping off point for creating audience personas or donor personas. You can use those personas to start to identify and target more people like that.

Obviously, I probably need to hear more about your specific mission or where you work to go a little bit deeper than that. But the more you can understand your existing list, the more I think that can help you find what’s often called lookalikes, people who have similar characteristics who might also be appropriate for donors.

“Is there a market research around whether this research should be an auto download or come via email with auto responder?” This is about gated content. The question is when you gate content, is it better to complete the sign-up and then have it automatically download, or come via email and auto responder?

You know, I don’t know if there is any market research that’s tested that, but I think that I would advise you as much as possible to do it as an auto download. If somebody is taking the time to give you their information, fill out something because they want something, the more immediately you can give it to them, the more they can open it right away, the better.

A good example of this is M+R’s Benchmarks report. You’ll see there they give you an executive summary for free. You can glean some of the high-level findings. But then if you download it, you can open it right away as a PDF.

“Will this presentation be available for download?” Yes, you will get that as a follow-up.

“Is there a group that does research specific to New York City?” If you are in a big city, it is easier, generally, to do polling. Big Duck and Ipsos have done Benchmarks specifically in New York. We did one last year. But really any market research firm that does polling can poll in any major city. They can also poll in regional areas. Again, the more specific the list you want to reach, sometimes the harder it is to recruit, and that can get more expensive. But if you’re in New York, or L.A., or Chicago, another major market, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Question about the Pew research. “How can small nonprofits use Pew research?” One of the great things about Pew is that they are constantly researching and publishing that research for free. Fairly recently, they just came out with their studies on how Americans use social media. I think it might be in October they just came out with the updates.

You can look on the Pew data for things like, “What are the growing ages on Facebook?” Or, “How many people in a certain age bracket, or of a certain gender, use which social media?” What I would encourage you to do with Pew is to spend a little bit of time, maybe once or twice a year, digging through some of their most recent data, and just comparing what they are saying is how Americans use the internet to how you communicate using the internet.

For instance, if you were trying to reach Millennials, that’s a target donor audience for you, take a look on Pew for which channels and tools Millennials are using and see if those are the places that you are communicating with them. Oftentimes, what we see is that organizations tend to lean on the channels and the tools that they, the people who work in the organization, are most comfortable with. They’re not always the channels and tools that your target audiences are living in.

Far and away, the most recent Pew data shows Facebook as having the most active users. Generally, in terms of social media, Facebook is the place for most organizations to start, but not always. There are a lot of other channels and tools you might want to consider.

“Should completely separate quantitative and qualitative, i.e. just do a poll with multiple-choice questions and do interviews, or okay to use open-ended questions in polls?” Definitely, it’s okay to use open-ended questions in polls. I think if you use open-ended questions in polls, the biggest challenge is just going to be reviewing the responses. When you ask a quantitative, like you ask a question that is multiple-choice, the data gets aggregated for you, so you can very quickly automatically create pie charts and things that show you how people responded.

Obviously, if people take the time to write a personal response, all those responses have to be read. That’s a little bit more work. When we’ve done polls that have open-ended questions, we are just very careful to do that sparingly if the list that we are surveying is bigger than, let’s say, 500 people. You’re just potentially going to get so many things you have to read it’s not going to be realistic. But it’s okay to mix those two things, in my experience.

I also want to flag, this is just in response to a comment somebody made, we haven’t talked a lot about focus groups on this conversation. Focus groups are another way to engage supporters, but with donors, it’s challenging. It’s very difficult to get a donor to come to a meeting with other donors. Sometimes they will. Sometimes you can do it at events.

It’s easier often to, if you’re going to do qualitative research with your existing donors, to do that over lunch, do that with phone calls, do it one-on-one. Researchers sometimes call these IDIs or in-depth interviews. Again, the higher up somebody is on your ladder of engagement, likely the more personalized the way you communicate with them is going to need to be, and that often holds true for research, too. It can be really challenging to get that.

There are actually some pretty interesting studies we’ve found that some of the larger market research firms do that you can buy access to where they will survey high-net-worth individuals. If, for instance, you are trying to understand what affluent people who are latinx give to, and you want to do a survey specifically to people who have the giving potential of a seven-figure gift who identify as latinx, you can do that. You can go to a market research firm, and you can access a database that they have and maintain, and you can survey that list, but it gets really expensive. I would just caution you to do that very strategically.

I think I have gotten through all of the questions that have broad applicability to the group. We’re just at the top of the hour pretty much. I want to just wrap up with a couple of things.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you to everybody who took the time to spend this hour with me. Thank you all for logging in from wherever you are. You’ll get a follow-up email from our team with some of the resources and the deck from today.

If you go to, you can see our upcoming workshops and webinars. There’s a number of things we’ve got coming up on donor retention in the next few months. If you go to, you will see our blog, and our ebooks, and other videos, and other content that’s free that I hope you will find useful to build your team skills.

I wish you a very successful year-end fundraising season. I look forward to seeing you in future webinars. Thanks very much.