How to Use Primary Research to Bring Your Donors’ Voices Into Your Fundraising Strategy
The buzz about the emergence of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like ChatGPT, has put artificial intelligence at the center of the cultural zeitgeist. Undoubtedly, AI holds immense potential to revolutionize philanthropy. Given that the nonprofit industry tends to approach transformative technological shifts cautiously, consider these questions:
- How should fundraisers assess its applicability and impact?
- Will it really have the impact that some say it will?
- Will it completely disrupt the way fundraising is done?
- Should we expect an enormous shift soon or is it still 10 years off?
Fundraisers need to maximize the opportunity of artificial intelligence while also utilizing one of our most powerful and timeless tools that captures the voice of the donor: primary research.
AI is set to become increasingly helpful by minimizing repetitive tasks, supporting ideation, creating content and synthesizing complex concepts quickly, but when it comes to fundraising, there is simply no substitute for the human-to-human connection — full stop. There is no substitute for the voice of your donors.
Artificial intelligence can only aid the work of fundraisers to a certain extent because ultimately, people give to people, every time. They do not give to websites, emails or direct mail campaigns. The way to move donors on a heart level is to know them at a heart level. And that connection does not occur as a result of prompts and technology in a vacuum — it happens through primary research. We must talk to our donors.
Primary Research Techniques for Fundraisers
Practically, primary research techniques that fundraisers should use include one-on-one conversations, one-to-few focus groups and one-to-many surveys. Let’s break down all three.
One-on-one interviews. These are obviously the most time intensive but also often come with the strongest reward. The opportunity for a donor, often a major donor, to share exactly what motivated them and the change they want to be a part of cannot be overstated.
Focus groups. These are more scalable than interviews, though you can drill down to get similar information. Use focus groups to get a broad sense of opinions and attitudes toward your cause.
Online surveys. These are excellent, cost-effective tools. Use surveys to collect data from a large number of people. Surveys are particularly helpful to support strategic decision-making when it’s important to validate that research findings are statistically significant.
What Nonprofits Can Learn From Primary Research
Primary research can unlock a world of insights about why donors give and what they hope to accomplish through their generosity. Interviews, focus groups and surveys can help you understand donor aspirations, values, motivations and attitudes toward your cause.
Imagine how you might pivot in your messaging if you see a clear pattern of what donors hope to achieve by giving. How might your strategy change after learning why several donors decided to move their giving to another organization? The impact of insights collected from a conversation that includes follow-up and clarifying questions cannot be overstated.
Primary research can demystify the demographic profile of the prospect that is most likely to support your organization. It can help answer other questions like, “Which program pillar of my organization’s messaging resonates most with prospects in marketing and fundraising communications?” You can cross-reference data and learn how groups of donors may be similar or different.
You can ask targeted questions that help you identify how connected supporters feel to your cause. And you can take this qualitative research and look for patterns that give you insights into which groups of individuals feel more or less connected.
There is a place for technology in fundraising. But building a relationship with people who open up their hearts and wallets is only made possible by using data to learn what moves someone, and identifying the people who are the most moved by your cause.
It’s the difference between a name and a donation amount on a spreadsheet and a note that says, “I give because my father is battling colon cancer and I want to do something.” Primary research like focus groups, surveys and interviews captures powerful donor insights. And those insights will fund your worthy cause well into the future.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Matthew Mielcarek serves as senior vice president of analytics and insights strategy at Pursuant. In his role, he works hand in hand with C-level nonprofit executives to unlock latent value in constituent and transaction data. He also engages with fundraisers to validate current strategies and identify untapped opportunities for growth.
Matthew has deep integrated strategy and campaigning expertise, working for traditional and online advertising agencies since 1995. With experience leading more than 100 nonprofit client engagements, he has addressed challenges faced by the smallest regional organizations to the largest multi-chapter, multi-affiliate organizations across 15 nonprofit verticals. Matthew has a degree in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin. Early in his career, he worked at GSD&M Advertising Kantar Millward Brown, a market research firm.