YMCA England has used online pre-research testing for the first time to identify untapped donor groups and evaluate the impact of a set of prototype images for posters and direct mail packs.
The testing involved emailing potential donors to ask them to participate in an online survey, which profiled respondents' lifestyle characteristics and asked them to assess four images.
While many small and medium-sized charities see complex market testing as an unaffordable luxury, YMCA is convinced that new opportunities to research over the web make it a necessity before embarking on new campaigns.
"Online testing is very cost-effective and is also appealing because of its flexibility," said YMCA direct marketing manager Catherine Lawson.
"The online survey is able to adapt each time by masking questions that are irrelevant to the respondent, and it is much more instant - you don't have to wait long for the final results to be delivered."
YMCA tried out the online testing after deciding to target new, younger markets and try cold donor recruitment for its Roomsponsor appeal for the first time.
Roomsponsor is a giving scheme through which donors give a minimum of £10 towards the cost of housing a homeless young person in one of YMCA's centres. Donors receive regular updates on the progress of the person living in the room they sponsor.
"We were going into unknown territory," said Lawson. "This research gives us the confidence to run a campaign knowing we are using the right tools for tapping into the right market."
Online testing is most valuable for assessing the unknown.
"It stops you ploughing a lot of money into a test pack which might not be successful," said Lawson.