How to conduct basic audience insight research for fundraising

How to conduct basic audience insight research for fundraising

How to conduct basic audience insight research for fundraising

Understanding the importance and power of audience insights is key to getting your fundraising started. Discover how to set key objectives and reach out and engage with your audience using simple & free tools.

By Chloe Amstein


Audience insight is at the heart of every successful fundraising initiative, yet it can often be pushed aside in favour of priorities that shout louder. It should, however, be the starting point for every fundraising initiative – because if you’re not clear on what your audience’s needs are, how will you be able to fulfil them?

Making a little time for some basic audience research will always be worth your while. It will challenge the preconceptions we can sometimes have about what makes others tick, and enable your organisation to make more informed decisions to meet your audience’s needs head on.

Fundraisers often find that their budget doesn’t stretch to commissioning deeper-dive research pieces, such as focus groups and online quantitative surveys. The good news is that basic audience insight research needn’t be a costly exercise. What follows are:

  • Two tips to help you frame your audience selection and research objectives;
  • Four research tools, in order of ease, so you can pick and choose what feels feasible for you.


Getting started with audience selection and research objectives


1. Deciding on an audience


Start by jotting down what you know about your current audience (age, gender, life stage, and income are good starting points). It’s fine at this stage to base this on your hunches (this can be stress-tested later, using one of the research tools).

Choosing an older audience who already donate to charities is an obvious starting point, since they have sufficient disposable income. Also consider, are you asking people to donate their own money, or to raise money from others? It can also be useful to write down who your audience isn’t, to help you narrow down the definition.

Sometimes organisations want to reach an audience they haven’t successfully engaged in their fundraising efforts to date. If this is the case, be really clear why you’ve made that decision – what evidence do you have that they are good fundraising prospects? And if you don’t have any evidence, is the organisation willing to accept less donation income in order to reach them?


2. Setting clear objectives


Before you set out to gather your audience insight, be really clear about why you need this. Write down one clear objective, and let that frame the questions you need to answer. This will help you avoid the most common pitfall of generating lots of insight that can’t be actioned.

A good test of this is whether or not the insight passes the ‘So what?’ question. If you can’t answer this, it means that the insight cannot be translated into meaningful action.

So for example, if the objective is to develop messaging, then questions around your audience’s motivations, shared values and beliefs should be your main focus. For new product development, you will need to understand what your audience would value and why they would want to get that from your organisation. For media targeting and planning, insight might focus on demographics and media consumption.


Four low-cost research tools to help you gain audience insight


Tool 1: Size up an audience with free online tools


Free online tools can instantly bring your audience to life. Here are two good ones, for starters:

i) YouGov Profiles lets you search for any brand, person or thing and will serve up a range of insight, from demographics to favourite mobile apps. Dog’s Trust supporters tend to shop at ASDA and their favourite celebrity is Paul O’Grady – these are interesting insights when thinking about corporate and celebrity partners.

Pros:   Instant and totally free.

Cons:  The sample numbers are small so be wary of forming an entire strategy from this source but if you have very little understanding of who your audience is, this is a fair starting point.


ii) Facebook’s advertising portal lets you size any audience on Facebook and Instagram. For example, there are 65,000 women aged 55 plus living in Manchester who love dogs and have an interest in charities. It’s a very nifty little trick!

Within Facebook, in the drop down menu on the left, click on ‘Create an advert’, choose ‘Send people to your website’ and click on ‘Create Ad Account’ (although you don’t need to ultimately follow this through). Then go to ‘Ad set’ and ‘Audience’ and you can create a custom audience by filtering demographic options, among others. You can see the potential reach of the audience on the right, under ‘Audience definition’.

Pros:   Instant and totally free.

Cons:  The size of the audience is just for Facebook and Instagram, but there’s a world of other channels to consider in any channel strategy that could increase your audience reach.


Tool 2: Talk to ‘lookalikes’ to uncover motivations and barriers to giving


Do you know anybody who fits the description of your chosen audience? Armed with a discussion guide (an essential list of interview questions) speak to those who match your audience description, or to those who interact with them every day (such as Supporter Care).

Speak to several individuals, asking the same carefully chosen questions, and this will give you some groundwork intelligence to interpret into insight. My own family has been an invaluable source of understanding giving motivations and barriers across the years.

Here are a few questions that can glean powerful insights into motivations and perceptions:

  • What three words spring to mind when you think of ‘Charity X’.
  • What motivates you to support ‘Charity X’?
  • ‘Charity X’ works across a number of different issues, but we’d like to know which you care about in particular. Imagine you have £100 – how would you split that between the issues?

Pros:   This primary research method is a rich source of qualitative insight (meaning the insight is expressed as opinions and thoughts) where you can really unpick what your audience thinks and feels, and why. It costs nothing except your time.

Cons:  Be sure to always sense check any opinions against your own instincts and experience. Mum doesn’t always know best!


Tool 3: Conduct an online survey as a yardstick for your supporters’ frame of mind


Online surveys, whether emailed to your supporter base or run for your website visitors, are seeing something of a renaissance in the sector as supporter experience is being pushed up the agenda. That’s because they’re great tools to listen to your supporter base. 

SurveyMonkey offers some good free basic tools.

Here are my top pointers:

  • Keep the survey questions to a minimum, ensuring each one helps you towards your set objective.
  • Think about the balance of multiple choice and open-ended questions, and how you will evaluate and use the responses.
  • Aim for a completion time of no more than 5 minutes to ensure a good completion rate and quality of response.
  • Try an incentive to boost responses. Offer a prize draw to win free vouchers (perhaps donated from a corporate partner), or a gift that links directly to your cause.

Pros:   Surveys are cost-effective and relatively quick tools for listening to your supporter base. They can give you insight that is a strong mix of quantitative and qualitative, meaning you can gather both softer motivations and beliefs and have the confidence that it’s robust.

Cons:  You will need at least 1,000 responses for a robust quantitative sample. When analysing results, do bear in mind that your most engaged supporters will respond.


Tool 4: Harness the power of data analysis to transform campaign performance


Numbers can often unlock the most powerful insights about audience behaviour. That’s because they can show how your audience is actually responding to your fundraising efforts – rather than relying on how your audience says they are responding or how they might respond in the future.

Your supporter database, Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics (click on the gear wheel on your Facebook Fan Page and select ‘View Insights’), each hold a wealth of audience data insight.

For example, running database analysis on past giving patterns could reveal a large volume of supporters who have only ever given once to you. This would indicate that the current approach to getting that all important second gift could work harder, and a tailored strategy could be developed.

Similarly, Google Analytics could show at a click of a button that a large proportion of your website visitors are using mobile platforms. If that’s the case, how mobile optimised is your website? In particular, your donation process.

Pros:   Unleashing the power of audience insight from data analysis can produce some of the most dramatic fundraising performance improvements that can instantly transform your campaign’s performance.

Cons:  Be prepared to have to look through lots of numbers to find an insight gem, and to use your powers of interpretation to make the numbers come alive. If you can, enlist the help of an in-house expert to help guide you, crunch the numbers and uncover insight to shape your fundraising.

Once you’ve got the audience insights you need, these can be used as your guiding compass for your fundraising initiative: from initial conception, to strategy, optimisation, and results review.


Chloe Amstein is senior planner at GOOD Agency, specialising in fundraising. She helps her clients understand their audiences, tell great stories, and raise money.

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