Q3 is well underway — is your organization operating against accurate information as you develop goals for the coming year, and beyond? And, do you know what you don’t know about the audiences and communities you serve and hope to engage ahead? These are questions worth considering at any point in time — and especially now, given the many changes we’ve been navigating over the past few years. A few others are…
- What’s changed since our current plans were developed, and how might these changes be impacting our stakeholders?
- Are current program/service offerings and resources aligned with these new realities and our organization’s broader goals? If not, where might we shift gears to maximize our resource investments?
- What new voices and perspectives can we pull in to ensure we get the most mileage possible from our communications and marketing efforts, and to help guide future decision-making?
- What new and/or unmet opportunities aren’t on our radar yet, but should be?
If any of these questions resonate, it may be time to consider doing some research. The good news is, doing so can often be simpler than you think, and the time invested in the short-term has the potential to pay off significantly in other ways — from helping prioritize and streamline internal resources to uncovering key messaging gaps prior to campaign launches to validating internal assumptions and helping test-run new ideas, to name just a few.
Not sure where to begin? Here are some tips to get you started…
1. Pick Your Path(s).
There are many forms of research you can use to gather answers to these questions, and others. Now more than ever, third-party market data is widely available online; a few sources are noted below. For more specific insights, conducting Quantitative research can help you determine the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ through larger-scale survey and data analysis efforts. Qualitative research typically explores the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ driving individual and group attitudes, behaviors, and motivations through methods such as interviews, focus groups, and observational research — never underestimate the simple power of a direct and open conversation with an unbiased source!
2. Screen Smartly.
Aligning on who you want to hear from in your research is also key; designing clear screening criteria upfront will support a more targeted recruitment result and help you get the most out of your efforts. If you’re deploying a survey, capturing a mix of demographic questions, standardized choices, and open-ended response options is also important; when conducting qualitative research, recruiting participants who bring the right mix of perspectives to ensure you have a broad spectrum of experiences to draw from is key. And if you don’t have the resources to analyze and act on data gathered from multiple user segments, consider an iterative approach, breaking audience groups into smaller, more discrete project steps.
3. Avoid Bias.
Impactful research relies on honest feedback; many well-intended studies garner limited and/or unreliable results if approaches aren’t designed with this in mind, and many respondents are also cautious about providing constructive or negative feedback to an organization or brand they genuinely believe in and care about. Enlisting the support of a neutral, third-party partner to support study development and deployment is key; you’d be amazed to discover the deep and highly detailed insights respondents often share with external research partners compared to sharing with internal stakeholders; the confidence of knowing that feedback shared will be anonymous, and that research facilitators don’t have specific vested interests in any particular outcome of data being gathered can make a big difference!
4. Keep It Simple.
Easier said than done, for sure, given the many questions you may be eager to answer. It’s important to remember that research participants are, first and foremost, human — busy individuals juggling many other roles, realities, and distractions well beyond whatever their relationship may be with you. And, the questions keeping you up each night are, for sure, not weighing on them as heavily And while every study is unique, a general rule of thumb is to keep estimated survey timing to 10-15 minutes tops, and target 30-60 minutes for individual interviews, depending on the study specifics. Often, participants are more than happy to keep discussions going for longer once they get comfortable in the conversation — yet another benefit to having direct discussions versus relying solely on existing assumptions and/or limited surveys to guide decision-making.
5. Know Before You Go.
Getting clear before diving in on both what you hope to learn, and how you plan to utilize the insights gained, is a critical, yet often overlooked, step, and ensuring that team members are committed to listening to the insights and recommendations coming out of the research process is key. Engaging any stakeholders who may not be fully on board early on in the process can also help avoid facing unexpected obstacles once you get started, and may also offer ideas for questions and recruitment approaches that others may not have considered.
6. Read Up & Keep Learning.
Whether you opt to conduct research now or sometime down the road, there are always opportunities to build ongoing learning into your business planning. Below are some no-cost data resources addressing a range of nonprofit and broader audience insights:
- Nonprofit Sector Data:
- National Council of Nonprofits Research, Reports and Data library
- Hubspot’s Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising Trends for 2022
- Nonprofit Source’s Ultimate List of Charitable Giving Statistics for 2022
- Hubspot’s Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising Trends for 2022
- Twilio’s Nonprofit Digital Engagement Report 2022
- Independent Sector’s Health of the US Nonprofit Sector 2022
- The Nonprofit Economic Data Project
- Broader/Other Audience Data:
Many of these sites, and others, publish updated data throughout the year so be sure to check back regularly for more updates. And, if you’re considering conducting audience-specific research, Indeed’s Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research: How They Compare is also a helpful read. These resources are, of course, just a starting point and can offer a helpful springboard for team conversations as your organization heads into Q4 and beyond. If you have questions or other suggested resources to share, reach out anytime. To impactful insights ahead…
Written by Jen Barth