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  We're noble, not hucksters - but we still must market Potpourri

Canadian FundRaiserMost fundraisers – and no doubt most executives in the nonprofit sector – don’t like to think of themselves as marketers.

The word conveys a feeling of commercialism, of phrases like “hurry, supply is limited”, “on sale now” or “buy one, get one free”. To us, this smacks of hucksterism, opportunism – even taking advantage by manipulating the customers’ perceptions.

Our work is noble. We chose this sector to serve humanity. To save sentient beings. To maintain our very globe for the generations who will follow us. Our work is the stuff of poetry. It’s work we can be proud of. Much prouder than the guy who, say, pitches discount furniture on TV with promises of “no payments until January 2008”.

We love the word philanthropy. It fits us like a warm blanket on a cold night. We’re in the philanthropy business – not the marketing business. The P-word makes us feel proud. The M-word makes us feel cheap. We prefer proud.

The simple “m” premise

Your charity probably does direct mail, or telefundraising, or runs lotteries, or sells products like Girl Guide cookies, or has special events to raise money. If your charity does one or more of these activities, you’re already doing marketing. Go ahead and keep calling it philanthropy. Everyone will continue to feel better. But do understand that you are doing marketing.

In fact, you’re probably marketing to 80% or more of your donor constituency.

If you’re going to market, you should do it well. You owe this to your founders, your colleagues, your donors, the beneficiaries of your service and those who will follow you into the organization.

If you’re ever going to market truly well, you’re going to need to do effective market research.

It’s really that simple.

We went to Wikipedia to find a nice, digestible definition of marketing … here’s the one we liked best.

"The most widely accepted definition of marketing on a global scale comes from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM )in the UK which is the largest marketing body in the world in terms of membership. The definition claims marketing to be the ‘management process of anticipating, identifying and satisfying customer requirements profitably’. Thus, operative marketing involves the processes of market research, new product development, product life cycle management, pricing, channel management as well as promotion."

Marketing differs from selling in that it’s much more strategic – and, we think, a lot more fun.

Prospects are selected with care. Messages are honed and crafted. Offers are carefully worded. Success is carefully measured – and constant improvement is sought.

In fact, the rage in marketing today is customer (substitute donor) satisfaction and loyalty. The corporate sector spends billions on measuring these issues every year. A Google search of Amazon.com will find more than 1,000 book titles dealing specifically with customer satisfaction.

So what can you do with the M word?

Here’s just a partial list of what a properly planned and executed market research program can give you:

  • A demographic description of your current donors (age, ethnicity, income, employment, education, gender, region).
  • A psychographic description of your donors (values, beliefs, ideas).
  • An understanding of why they chose you in the first place.
  • A statistical read of how satisfied they are in their relationship with your charity.
  • Who your closest competition is (this might surprise you).
  • How likely your donors are to give again.
  • How you might convince your donors to give more often.
  • Which types of donors might convert to monthly giving, major gifts and/or legacy gifts.
  • How your donors would describe your organization to a friend or neighbour (in other words, their brand perception).
  • Do they read your newsletter? Why? Why not?
  • Why your lapsed donors stopped giving.
  • How you can get lapsed donors to come back.

This can get ridiculously simple. For example, when asking direct mail donors to come to a focus group, it’s important to remind them to bring reading glasses. (One of the most common complaints about a charity’s written materials is that the typeface is too small.)

We want you to do a very brief exercise right now. Review the list in the previous section and ask yourself “which of these items would I not want to know?”

If you’re a smart fundraiser, you would no doubt like to know the answers to all of them, because the answers to these questions can help you do a better job of connecting with prospects and donors in a crazily over-communicated world.

The Q words

There are two types of commonly-practiced market research:

Quantitative research involves asking very specific questions – often in multiple choice format – to a large number of people within a specific timeframe. This type of research gives us a "thinner" read on a larger number of people. The tradeoff here is “depth” for “breadth”. It is commonly referred to as polling. This is the type of research that has told us for example that just under half of Canadian donors don’t like the ways we solicit them and just under half don’t have confidence that we spend their donated money the way we said we would.

Qualitative research involves looser face-to-face discussions that take place among groups of similar people (like monthly donors). Rather than responding to multiple choice questions asked by a telephone interviewer, these discussions happen in a social format, and there’s often a synergy to the discussion. Focus groups don’t give us results that can be considered statistically valid because the number of participants is small. But the information generated can be rich – like the elderly donor who said that her legacy will be “the footprint I’ll leave on this world”.

Let’s now briefly take a look at how these two types of research can complement each other. In 2002, the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy conducted its Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. In that survey of thousands of Canadians it discovered an alarming (at least to us) percentages of grumpy donors.

The poll told us the breadth of that grumpiness (ie how many are grumpy), but it didn’t explain why these donors felt that way, or, even more importantly, what we can do to reduce grumpiness and increase confidence. Focus groups of grumpy donors would probably reveal the whys. Further polling could then project how many grumpy donors we could move back into the confident camp with a well-planned and well-executed strategy based on the focus group findings.

When done properly, quantitative and qualitative research go hand in hand in lovely symmetry.

Market research works

We in the charitable sector are late getting into the market research game. Very late. Corporations have understood its importance for decades. Market research helped Coke become “the real thing” (and market leader) and Pepsi nail down its number two spot as “the taste of a new generation”.

Think of cars. Volvo and safety. BMW and engineering. Mazda and youthful fun (“vroom vroom”). Saturn and the (often female) customer experience of buying a car and dealing with car dealerships.

It’s not only in the business world that success results from knowing your constituents/customers. Bill Clinton became US President by focussing on the domestic economy while Ronald Regan became President by asking Americans to return to their traditional values.

Stephen Harper became Canadian Prime Minister in large part because his campaign advisers understood marketing. They understood their prospects (voters). And they found the messages (like a GST cut from 7% to 6%) that stuck and resonated with their target audience. The policies might be questionable to many. But they resulted from VERY successful market research and marketing communications.

So don’t be scared

There’s a learning curve to market research. There’s no question about that. Getting started can be a little daunting to the uninitiated.

But it’s challenging. It’s fun. And it needn’t be prohibitively expensive.

So start. Find a way to ask your donors – or your prospects – what they want. What they like. What they expect. What pisses them off.

We can guarantee you one thing. Really knowing your donors is going to be a necessity in the future of fundraising. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Take that step. Do it this year. You won’t be disappointed with the outcome.

For further information: Fraser Green, Principal, The Flag Group, 613/232-9113, fgreen@theflagroupinc.com; Tony Myers, Adviser to the President (Strategic Initiatives), University of Calgary, 403/220-2710, tony.myers@ucalgary.ca.

Canadian FundRaiser
Canadian FundRaiserSince 1991, the Canadian FundRaiser™ newsletter has been updating nonprofit managers twice-monthly on news, trends, tips and analysis of developments in the fields of fundraising and nonprofit management.

Our service, originally simply a twice-monthly newsletter, has expanded over the years to include workshops, books, back-issue search and Special Advisories for our member/subscribers. And the complete package is now the Canadian FundRaiser™ Nonprofit Sector Management Information Service.

Current Members can search back issues here, renew their Membership, or correct their address information in our secure files.

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