By Dan Woychick
About a year ago my dog almost died. Buster and I have been together for nearly 16 years. He had been as frisky as ever on a long walk the day before his near-death experience and now, many months later, he’s doing fine.
The problem I faced that day at the veterinary hospital is similar, though perhaps less emotionally charged, to ones faced by non-profit organizations on a regular basis: not enough information to adequately guide a wise decision.
How could Buster seem so healthy one day and so ill the next? What’s wrong with him? Can he be saved? And what will it cost? In a very condensed time frame, with the help of the vet, I needed to consider what little information I had and make a decision.
Unlike large corporations that spend millions on market research every year, non-profit organizations have relatively shallow pockets. However, they are well-served by acquiring as much information as possible before making decisions that affect the success of the organization: Would our stakeholders prefer to get information from us online or in print? How can we increase donations from younger demographics? Is our website as effective as it needs to be?
Sometimes decisions are made with virtually no information aside from hunches or other people’s personal anecdotes. Other times there’s paralysis caused by too much information. Either way, organizations benefit when they take the time to acquire and analyze relevant information.
Targeted market research doesn’t have to cost a fortune or take months to see results. It helps to ask the right questions — or any questions at all. Most non-profits have stakeholders ready to offer their time and insights with little or no incentive. Through facilitated focus groups or online surveys, organizations can quickly collect useful qualitative and quantitative data.
We’ve conducted website usability testing with only 5–6 subjects that resulted in significant improvements in a matter of weeks. Cost? A few thousand dollars.
Sometimes the information is right under your nose, but making sense of it is the problem. If your organization is information rich and time poor, it could be worthwhile to ask an expert to analyze the data with fresh eyes.
As a parent, as well as a dog owner, I often feel as if I’m flying blind. Most often, my course of action is trial-and-error, with only marginal confidence that what I’m doing might work. Non-profit organizations have far less margin for error. By building an organizational culture that encourages informed decision-making, your marketing efforts will be more successful the first time.