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3 Types of Audience Research Nonprofits Need

Courtney Clark

Vice President, Design, Forum One

You need it. You know you do. Audience research is a vital part of any project, but sometimes people are quick to cut it. “We know our audiences well enough,” they say. “We don’t have time!” But is that true?

No! Of course not! If we knew what audiences wanted, we’d have an excess of donations, volunteers, members, newsletter subscribers, report readers, and we wouldn’t be having conversations about how to increase awareness or get audiences to act.

Why you need audience research

At a minimum, you should be conducting audience research on a yearly basis. There are a few big reasons that stand out:

  • The technology landscape is changing rapidly and your communications needs to adapt with it.
  • Different audiences have different priorities. Baby boomers obviously have different needs and priorities than Gen Z. Your messaging and language needs to reflect that.
  • You don’t know how your audiences will respond. You can form a hypothesis. Audience research helps you mitigate risk and test out your hypothesis before you spend money on your solution.

For more on why you need audience research, check out my post, “Do I Need Audience Research?”

Three audience research methods that match your needs

I’m glad you’re on board! Here are three lean audience research methods that any nonprofit can use. Each of these approaches take anywhere from 5-20 hours of your time. Of course, you could always spend more time, but it’s not required. You may find value in one type, or all three. The main thing to keep in mind going in, is what are you hoping to achieve from the results?

Audience Research Type #1: Social Media Listening

What is your audience saying? Social media listening (or monitoring) means going to social media sites and listening to what people are saying about your brand, your organization, or a topic.

Why is social media listening valuable?

  • You see the language and keywords that your audiences are using.
  • You see sample messaging from your comparators or competitors.
  • You uncover pain points or common questions your audiences have about a topic your organization cares about

Where do you do it?

Start with Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram. You can also check out online communities or forums where your audiences are active. Also, experiment a little; go to where your audiences are already active, and then go to where they are not. How do the conversations differ?

What free tools can help you?

Hootsuite! You can easily track mentions of your brand or relevant keywords you’re interested in. There are many of other free social listening tools too.

Sample Task

Go to Twitter or Reddit and search for your organization’s name or acronym. Now search for a topic your organization cares about. Who’s talking about you? What are they saying?

Tips

  • Your language should match your audience’s to improve your SEO.
  • If your audiences are going to Quora or Reddit and asking questions, consider crafting website content that address those questions.

Audience Research Type #2: A Survey

A survey is a predetermined set of questions sent to a segment of people to get feedback.

Why is conducting a survey valuable?

  • Easy to scale. Need to get responses from hundreds of people? Start with a survey.
  • Easy to distribute, whether their paper surveys or online surveys it’s pretty easy to get them in front of many people.
  • Great for measurement. Surveys are excellent when you need quantitative data, particularly demographic information.
  • Anonymous responses. This allows people to speak freely, without judgement.

Where do you run a survey?

You can survey people one-on-one at an event, in a public place, or over the phone. You can also survey people via paper forms or email surveys. Common types of surveys include: donor surveys (new, active, or lapsed donors), event feedback surveys, demographic surveys, and service feedback surveys.

What free survey tools can help you?

Really helpful and free tools that I recommend include Google Forms and Typeform. SurveyMonkey also has free templates written by experts.

Sample survey task

Draft a ten question survey using Google Forms and email it to 30 donors. You can adapt these sample questions: Donor Feedback Template

Tips

Audience Research Type #3: An Interview

An interview is a one-on-one conversation, where the facilitator asks the participant questions and explores a topic in depth. This really digs into ‘why’ a person feels a certain way.

Why is conducting an interview valuable?

  • It gives you more flexibility. Interviews allow you to ask follow-up questions and rephrase questions if people don’t understand them the first time.
  • It uncovers attitudes and motivations. Interviews allow you to explore general attitudes and hear why people make specific choices and what influenced their decision (ex. What made them decide to donate?).

Where do you conduct an interview?

Anywhere! In-person, on the phone, on a video call.

What free interview tools can help you?

I definitely recommend Zoom for video conferencing, and there are of course others.

Sample interview task

Draft five questions and schedule five interviews with new members.

Tips

  • Record your conversation so you’re not frantically taking notes. Or invite a note-taker to join the call. But not matter what, make sure you get the exact quotes from your participants. This will be invaluable later when you’re taking this back to your team.
  • Don’t ask leading questions. Some of my favorite generic, non-leading questions are: ‘What are your impressions?’ and ‘What else?’
  • Have the participant focus on what’s happening right now. It’s difficult for people to recall what has happened in the past or what they might do in the future.

Now what?

Conduct your research, synthesize it, look for patterns, and triangulate! You won’t get a full picture with just one type of audience research. Make sure you share these results with your team. The valuable research you just conducted should help your team refine your strategy and tactics!

See you at #19NTC!

You can get more communications tips and tools at my session on Wednesday, March 13th at #19NTC called The Ultimate Communications Toolkit – Tried and True Resources Everyone Can Use. Or visit the Forum One Booth #511 in the Exhibition Hall!

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Written By

Courtney Clark

Vice President, Design, Forum One