Case study: Music charity listens to its audience

The Musicians Benevolent Fund used research before starting to draw up a new strategy.

The challenge
The Musicians Benevolent Fund decided to mark its 85th anniversary last year by surveying British and Irish musicians about their impressions of its work.

"It seemed like a good time to take stock of what we're doing and see if the services we're providing are relevant to musicians now," says Rosanna Preston, chief executive of the fund. "We also wanted to work towards our 90th birthday in 2011 and have a five-year plan towards that."

The process
The fund wanted to get feedback from all kinds of musicians, from classical composers to indie producers, and from people it hadn't had previous contact with. So it hired a research agency called the hub, which had contacts in the music and arts industries, to conduct the survey.

The fund worked with the agency to draw up four different questionnaires, each consisting of about 34 questions. Each one was aimed at a slightly different audience - young service users, retired beneficiaries, beneficiaries of working age and musicians who had never used the benevolent fund's services before. The charity wanted to find out three key pieces of information: were musicians aware of the charity and what it did for its members? Did they think its services were useful? Did they think the charity should be running certain projects that it wasn't operating already?

The questionnaires were distributed last November with the help of a range of industry bodies, including the Musicians' Union, which sent them out with its members' magazine. They were also posted online.

The results
Nearly 3,000 musicians responded by the deadline of 7 January. Their answers are now being collated and the initial findings will be discussed by focus groups and advisory panels next month. The results will be presented to the fund's staff and trustees in May; they will use them to devise a new strategy. Preston admits the exercise has been an expensive one, but she says it has already raised the charity's profile.

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