Market research puts your organization in front of your target audience and enables you to deliver the correct message to that audience. It doesn’t matter how small, large, new or established your organization is … market research enables you to grow your organization. You’ve got to do it. And the results are not always what you think they are going to be.
Early in my career, I worked in the membership department of a Midwest, metropolitan zoo. In all our mailings to prospective members, we talked about how great our zoo was. We talked about the new ape house being built, the nursery where baby animals were cared for and on display, about the vast elephant exhibit that looked just like the African veldt, and so on.
We were justifiably proud of our zoo and thought new members would line up to purchase a year-long membership if they knew what they’d see when they visited.
That was before we did a little market research. And once we did, we found out that locals preferred to buy a one-day pass to visit our zoo and purchase a year-long membership to visit the world-renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska. Let me explain …
Our zoo was a member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association that offered reciprocal benefits. All our members were eligible to get discounts and reduced-rate admission to zoos and aquariums across the country that also belonged to the AZAA.
I won’t lie. It wounded our civic pride a little to realize people were buying memberships to our zoo in order to visit another zoo. But the information was invaluable, and we started changing our marketing messages to reflect this new information.
Nonprofits have the most valuable resource available to them … volunteers. Ask your volunteers to attend a focus group and to bring along a friend or two. Volunteers will be biased in their attitudes toward your organization. Ask them to bring along friends who are not invested in your organization.
Assign a moderator (this can be a staff member if funds are limited, or a professional moderator if funds collected through WePay allow) who asks questions related to why people are already a supporter (your volunteers) and what would induce people to become involved (the non-volunteers).
Statisticians suggest it takes several focus groups to get the best results.
This is my personal favorite because I love talking to donors and members and asking them questions about their experiences with the nonprofit organization. Your questions should be open-ended where the respondent is not bound by a multiple choice selection but can offer an answer in his or her own words.
Bear in mind, however, that if you conduct face-to-face interviews, respondents may not always answer truthfully and simply tell you what they think you want to hear. If possible, hire interviewers and let the respondents know the interviewers are paid consultants and respondents will remain anonymous.
Again, stress to your respondents they can remain anonymous. This can be a little tricky if you’re sending the survey by email and expect respondents to return the survey via email. I’d give respondents the option of mailing in their answers.
Always provide an “Other” option with your multiple choice questions so respondents have an opportunity to say what they want. This is how we found out members would buy a membership to our zoo so they could attend another zoo. I assure you that answer was not on our surveys nor would we ever have thought of it.
If possible, provide an incentive for completing the survey. We’d offer respondents a discount in our gift shop or a chance to win a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo.
How do YOU conduct market research? Have you ever discovered any surprising findings?