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Do Non-Profits Need Market Research?

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Thurston

For decades, profit-driven organizations have used market research to understand customers, test advertising campaigns, develop and improve products, and so much more. The data these companies gather is essential to their business strategy – and their success.

In contrast, many nonprofit organizations have resisted using market research – fearing that it is too complicated and too expensive to be worth the bother. Or others, failing to realize that effective market research is a discipline that requires knowledge of research methodologies and expert analysis, create online surveys that deliver little to no value to their organization and conclude that market research is useless.

By dismissing market research in favor of relying on “what’s always worked” or “hunches”, nonprofits risk missing out on critical information that can inform communications and development strategy and improve fundraising results. Market research allows nonprofits to really know their key audiences and donors in a way that isn’t possible relying on gut instinct alone. A well-designed study can help you answer fundamental questions like:

  • Why do people support our organization – or why don’t they?

  • What would make donors give more?

  • Is our organization and work viewed as impactful and important?

  • Are we a top philanthropic priority for our supporters? If not, why not?

  • What messages resonate with donors?

  • How do different audiences view our “brand”? Does it align with how we view ourselves?

  • Who are our competitors?

  • How do our constituents want to be engaged?

  • What aspects of our mission are most important to our community?

  • Is there an information gap internally or externally?

Sage Advancement Group has been helping our clients answer these questions and many more. For example, a national nonprofit was considering making a major shift in their branding and messaging to focus less on literacy and more on medicine. Collaborating with Sage to research their organization’s brand identity, they discovered that this shift was not going to resonate with their community of supporters in the way they, and their board, had hoped. The information gained from the study allowed our client to refine their branding and messaging according to what was meaningful to both the organization and their community. Another client, an educational institution, was frustrated by their lackluster annual fund growth and partnered with Sage to research what was driving donor behavior. We discovered that there was a large information and engagement gap among alumni donors and non-donors, who had no clear understanding of how gifts were being used or the impact they were making. This came as a surprise to the client, who assumed that their messaging had been on target. Armed with this data, they were able to refine their story-telling strategies to more effectively message to key audiences.

Insights gleaned through market research, like our client examples above, allow organizations to shift (or reaffirm) their strategy so that they can effectively inform, inspire and engage their most important audiences.

When competing for limited donor dollars and attention, knowledge is power. By arming themselves with data that can inform decision making, nonprofits that use market research have a distinct advantage over organizations who operate with limited information. So, do nonprofits really need market research? The answer is a resounding, Yes!

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