Would you ask Grandma to do a tough mudder?

publication date: Mar 31, 2016
author/source: Lucy Gower

Lucy GowerHopefully not, but if you don’t understand your target audience you could easily make an inappropriate ask like this!

The more you know your audience, the more likely you are to understand their needs, and the greater your ability to produce fundraising products and services that will appeal to them.           

Developing anything without understanding your target audience runs a high risk of failure. By doing so, you are guessing what someone would like purely based on your assumptions about them or what you like, which – given you are not likely to be your target audience – is a hugely erroneous shortcut that is likely to lead to failure.

As Rachel Collinson eloquently pointed out at a recent Engaging Networks conference, “If you’re trying to fundraise without knowing your target audience, you may as well be asking 80-year-olds to do a Tough Mudder!”

Getting to know your audiences should be a core part of every single piece of fundraising you ever undertake. And it doesn’t have to be a big or expensive process. Here are some simple ways for you to gain valuable insights from your supporters:

Surveys: ask people for their views and opinions in a survey, or a poll. It’s simple to set up an online survey and email it to your supporters at minimal cost. You could also use social media channels like Facebook to ask people what they think of issues and campaigns and how they would like to get involved.

Read more about constructing surveys in my blog here.

Have focus groups to find out peoples’ views and attitudes on a particular topic, product or service. Often focus groups are useful to confirm ideas you already have rather than uncovering new insights. This is because what people say in a focus group is often different to what they actually do, think and feel. In addition people may not understand the potential of the idea you are developing especially if something is entirely new. As Henry Ford once said, “If you ask people what they want they ask for a faster horse.”

‘Faster horse syndrome’ is why many organizations are turning to ethnography – the systematic study of people and cultures to gain customer and supporter insight.

Developed from the discipline of anthropology, ethnography is a study where researchers spend quality time with a group over sustained periods of time to observe and learn from their behaviours in a ‘natural’ habitat. Netnography has also more recently looked at peoples’ natural online behaviours.

7 quick and simple tips to better understand your fundraising audience

  1. Find ways to interact with your supporters every day. Pick up the phone rather than emailing where you can. Look for opportunities for dialogue; have face-to-face meetings and invite people to events. Often the exchanges that come up in everyday conversation provide the best insights.
  2. Complaints – what do your supporters complain about? Listen in on your supporter care calls, follow conversations on social media and read and respond to complaint emails and letters (especially if supporter care is not your day job). Are there themes or recurring problems that indicate something broader needs to be solved?
  3. Ask more questions. Don't accept that the current product, service or process is the best way. You will gain lots from asking open questions, like: Tell me how you feel about that? What happened? Help me understand.
  4. Practice listening. To get the most value from asking open questions, you have to listen. It sounds obvious, but listening is a skill, like any other that you have to practice.
  5. Collect data. Ensure your database is as accurate as it can be, collect survey results, campaign evaluations, web analytics and observe online chat rooms in a joined-up and consistent way.
  6. Hang out where your supporters hang out. For example be a participant in one of your fundraising events and experience what your supporters experience. If they spend time at the local community center – go there too. Do activities they do with them, and you will get to better understand what they think, feel and do. The good news is that it’s not just down to you. The more people you can get on board to help you listen, observe and gather information the better.
  7. Finally, share your insight. For example in team meetings, or an internal email or a notice board where you physically post your findings. Seeing things visually around your organization will really start to build a comprehensive picture of your supporters. From there, you can begin to develop campaigns, products, services and communications that really appeal to their needs.

Insight is a team sport, make it part of every fundraisers role.

Lucy Gower is a trainer and coach specialising in innovation. She led the first innovation team at UK children’s charity NSPCC and it was there that Lucy realized that you can have the best ideas, processes and technology, but if you don’t have the right people working together then even the best ideas will fail. Since leaving the NSPCC in 2012 Lucy has worked with over 50 organisations including Amnesty, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Nesta, The Children’s Society and Greenpeace.

Lucy is also author of The Innovation Workout, a blogger and conference speaker, and is often seen on Twitter @lucyinnovation


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