Just because your business isn’t in the business of making money doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from solid market research. On the contrary, the case could be made that nonprofits need market information just as much as the for-profit sector because even though they might not have a physical product to sell, they still have to access community need in relation to their own expertise, as well as that of the agencies offering similar services to their own. Thus, understanding where the need is and who has the money (i.e., donors) or the time (i.e., volunteers) to help you can be the difference in surviving or fading into the annals of BFM (“Big Fat Mistakes”).
And if you think market research has to be expensive to be informative, think again. Even nonprofits with small budgets can get meaningful feedback in affordable ways. Take a look at how you can use market research to get the information your nonprofit needs to succeed:
Step 1 – Determine What You Need to Know
A research project can help you answer any question, but it can’t answer all of them. Narrow your focus so that you have one or two main objectives. Maybe you want to know why the community isn’t utilizing your services. Or maybe you need to identify donor prospects. Form a few solid questions if you want to get solid answers from your nonprofit market research.
Step 2 – Assess
Quite frequently, nonprofits can uncover a lot of information for free (or nearly free). Look around for resources. Federal and local government documents (including census reports, crime statistics and public health data), United Way community report cards, media kits, news articles and society, church and club membership lists can all provide valuable data quickly and inexpensively. You can also use online resources like Google Analytics and Quick Sprout, as well as social media websites, to track and monitor chatter. Furthermore, existing staff, board members, volunteers and donors can be excellent sources of information via either their own skill sets or their connections. Use what you already have available before you begin spending your money on nonprofit market research.
Step 3 – Observe
A lot of good market research is observation. Pay attention to what your staff, board members, volunteers, donors and clients say and do. Also consider what other similar agencies are doing out in the community. A good ethnographic or competitive study can be done with as little as a pen and a piece of paper, but it can reveal a lot about your agency’s reputation, usefulness and appeal.
Step 4 – Talk
Commit to asking one or two questions of the people with whom you regularly interact. If each staff member asks the same question to everyone they talk to over a certain period of time, your organization will have a solid resource of material from which you can draw insight. You can then move forward with more structured qualitative research methodologies such as focus groups, advisory panels and interviews. While these techniques can vary widely in cost, remote options (like online focus groups and bulletin boards) can be used in place of the more expensive face-to-face and telephone interviewing options. Regardless, the verbal feedback you get can help your organization identify and/or anticipate concerns, modify practices to deal with issues and work to sustain strengths.
Step 5 – Quantify
Because good market research entails both qualitative and quantitative research methods, it is important for your nonprofit to get numbers to back up what everyone is noting in their observations and discussions. Surveys are great ways to do this because they can be tailored to fit your own objective(s) and budget relatively easily. For instance, nonprofits with tiny budgets can partner with similar organizations and create an omnibus survey that collects data on a variety of topics. In return for paying a fee and sharing the cost of the survey, you are able to ask a specific number of questions, receive the answers to those questions and collect the relevant demographic information for the participants responding to your questions. You can also conduct an online survey or place a small survey questionnaire inside an established newsletter or brochure, options that are all frequently less costly than traditional paper surveys that have to be separately mailed out to respondents.
Want to Learn More?
As emerging technologies continue to offer more and more research options, nonprofits have nearly limitless opportunities for affordable solutions. If you need assistance learning when and how to utilize nonprofit market research, contact our team at Communications for Research (CFR). We have over 20 years experience helping organizations meet their research needs no matter the objective or the budget.
Feel free to also download any of our free resources highlighting our best market research tips for businesses of all kinds.