FUNDRAISING RESEARCH: HAVE YOU DONE YOUR HOMEWORK? - Campaigns can miss their mark if they don't target the right supporter

Kitcatt Nohr created a new logo which featured the faces of four people across a range of ages. The revamped corporate identity extended across the whole charity, from letterheads to donor packs.

One of the major aims was to draw attention to the fact that Jewish Care provides a whole range of services and the rebranding was the basis of a new advertising and fundraising campaign.

"As a result of the research, the charity took on a much broader range of themes for its fundraising and direct marketing," says Nohr. "These included employment, mental health, and youth and community centres. We were able to give the board concrete things to look at, and it was not until the board saw that the average person thought Jewish Care just ran homes for the elderly that it was able to change the direction it was going in."

DO'S AND DON'TS OF COMMISSIONING RESEARCH

DO

- Work out if it's worth the expense, if you're paying a lot of money for it. What will you get, and is it something you already know anyway?

- Be prepared to spend time with the people doing the research. A research agency or direct marketing agency may need to live and breathe your organisation for a while to do its job properly.

- Get research done regularly - think of it as your charity's MOT. This is especially important after periods of change, such as mergers and acquisitions, when your donor profile may have been altered.

- Look at what like-minded charities are doing. It may not be an exact match for you, but it could put you in the right direction.

DON'T

- Throw a lot of money into focus groups you don't need. They can be great, but they're not foolproof and they're not always necessary.

- Be a sheep. Just because someone else has had a great result with a pack featuring a brown-eyed child, doesn't mean you will.

- Expect miracles. While quality research can transform a musty organisation, as in the case study above, it won't necessarily unearth a hidden goldmine of generous lottery winners desperate to donate to your cause.

Caspar Van Vark looks at the benefits of market research for well aimed offensives on donors.

Successful charities know that there is more to fundraising than rattling a collecting tin. Or rather, they know when to rattle a tin and when to do something else. But how do they know? Getting close to donors through research allows charities to ensure they're reaching supporters in the right way.

It may seem obvious that charities need to do their homework, but research can be expensive and time-consuming. If you spend a lot of money formulating a fundraising strategy, you need to make sure you will recoup the costs with additional revenue.

Larger organisations are more likely to have the budget to enlist the help of a research agency, particularly for a large-scale fundraising initiative.

In October last year, Cancer Research UK did an insert and door-drop campaign targeting every household in Britain and included three million "Rookie" packs.

The charity used Zalpha, part of the WWAV Rapp Collins Group, for the Rookie campaign research. "It's not a skill we have in-house and the agency knows what it's doing," says Wright. The Rookie creative was developed from the charity's research on how to engage the under 35s.

The format of the campaign was based on results of research on the target market, says Helen Wright, Cancer Research UK's head of direct marketing.

"We identified that we wanted to talk to a younger audience," she explains, "and we used focus groups to understand their motivations for giving. Then we developed propositions based on those results, which included the fact that our audience felt that charities wasted money on direct marketing."

Wright says that the scale of the campaign made it particularly important to get the research right. "We knew we would be developing packs and that it was worth the investment to do the research, although you can't always guarantee a return. You have to invest so you can carry on and we were at the stage of needing to do that."

Focus groups and surveys can be useful ways of testing potential donors' reactions to a pack, but the results can't be taken as gospel, says Jane Allen, managing director of consultancy Jumping Bean Marketing. "Focus groups don't always give a true reflection of people's live actions," she says. "Research into a hard-hitting pack versus a 'good news' pack will often show that respondents like the positive pack best, yet in a live test often the opposite happens."

For charities supporting more niche causes which don't have mass-market appeal, it is important to research attitudes to their causes and tailor their fundraising accordingly. But they may not be able to afford the cost of an agency.

The Terrence Higgins Trust has found that its cause still does not enjoy widespread support, even 20 years after it was founded. "There is still a huge amount of prejudice around HIV and Aids," says head of fundraising Debbie Holmes.

"So in terms of mass appeal we don't have a lot of support. In a recent survey we found that only 10 per cent of people would give time or money to an HIV/Aids charity against 70 per cent for a cancer charity."

That huge gulf in support means fewer resources with which to chase funding.

"For us, careful research and targeting is paramount," says Holmes. "We can't simply send out a mailing and assume it will pull on heart strings. It just wouldn't be cost-effective for us to take a mass-market approach."

Organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust which cannot afford much external support or rely on mass-market appeal have to find other ways of identifying and approaching potential donors. The charity has found that it's more likely to get support in gay-friendly areas, so for face-to-face fundraising, it focuses on Brighton and London's Soho.

The trust also pools research with other charities which have similar supporter profiles. "It's unlikely we'd find a high match with people on the database of a children's charity, for example, so we have to research like-minded charities," says Holmes.

The Terrence Higgins Trust has in fact used an agency to research the demographics of its donors, but conducts its own surveys and internal focus groups. It used Occam and Experian to do the research and the agencies ran the trust's database against their own lifestyle database. The data was used to evaluate mailings so the tone and content would reflect the supporters.

The trust recently included a questionnaire in its newsletter to check that what it was sending was relevant to recipients. It was sent to 500 supporters and asked for feedback on what recipients liked and disliked.

The response rate was 40 per cent and Holmes says it gave a real insight into supporters' preferred methods of communication and how often they wanted to hear from the charity.

It learned from focus groups that its donors are interested in the broad issues around HIV/Aids and respond better to information than to packs based on emotional appeals.

Supporter databases store the bulk of a charity's donor information and most charities rely heavily on them but they're not always kept up-to-date and useful information may be missing. In the case of the Terrence Higgins Trust, years of mergers with other organisations may have diluted databases. In the period after a merger or any other large organisational change, research into the donor pool is important. Comparing and sharing information with like-minded charities is one way of doing this but research agencies can also compare your database against their own information which may throw up some interesting results.

"Donor databases can be matched by research companies to run against your own," says Philip Wilson, head of fundraising at the Prostate Cancer Charity. "The research company may have a database of wealthy people and family trusts and a number of charities are surprised to find that they have some very wealthy people among their donors. It's not something we've done yet ourselves but we may in the future. You can also look at rich lists and the business press, particularly at companies that have recently gone public."

Identifying corporate donors also requires careful research for charities with less mainstream causes. Corporate fundraising presents its own set of challenges. Companies want to support charities that match their own perceived values and they'll often gravitate towards "cuddly causes" rather than risk alienating their customers.

"Some would have nothing to do with us and we've accepted that we won't be charity of the year for many of them," says Holmes. "So when we're researching corporate donors, we would look at companies that have a diversity programme, for example, or a gay staff group. And we would look at previous corporate giving."

Wilson believes it is not that difficult to identify companies that might be sympathetic to a particular cause. "If we're fundraising from companies, we need to find those which are keen to support the health of their employees," he explains. "That would include those which offer health plans to their workers. There's plenty of material out there to tell you this: you can look at their web sites, press cuttings and annual reports, for instance."

And niche causes can even be a selling point in themselves, according to Catherine Peters, of the Mental Health Foundation. Mental health, like HIV/Aids, can be a difficult cause to get support for, but it can sometimes strike a chord with potential supporters. "Cute and cuddly causes have an easier time of it," she says, "but our work is unique and that often has a resonance with the people we target."

The Mental Health Foundation uses directories, CD-Roms, the internet and its own database to hone its corporate target lists.

"Then we sound people out on the phone," says Peters, "to gauge if there is any interest. Based on that we write to them, probably just a short paragraph at first, and maybe then do a presentation."

The bottom line is whether or not the research is cost-effective. Charities have to know their limits -- spending a fortune on focus groups for a small fundraising drive will not be worthwhile and researching creative concepts can be time-consuming and expensive. The most important thing is to be relevant, but how an organisation does that will vary.

"It depends on the sector," says Wilson. "If you're doing a door-drop for Save the Children, a lot of people support that cause so it may be worthwhile. But if you're doing it for the donkey welfare foundation, it is less likely to be."

CASE STUDY: JEWISH CARE USES AGENCY TO CHANGE DONOR PERCEPTION

Sometimes a charity needs a major overhaul to find out how it is perceived and to improve its fundraising practices. Jewish Care did that last year with the help of Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, a direct marketing agency.

Jewish Care was formed in 1990 as a result of the merging of two charitable bodies, the Jewish Welfare Board and the Jewish Blind Society.

Over the next decade, the charity grew to become an amalgam of many more bodies, including Food for the Jewish Poor and the Jewish Home & Hospital at Tottenham.

The charity is the leading provider of services in the Jewish community, but it still needed to boost its fundraising.

"The series of mergers and acquisitions left Jewish Care with a rather modest and ageing database of supporters," says Marc Nohr, managing partner at Kitcatt Nohr. "We conducted research in the context of a major rebranding."

The agency's head of planning drew up a research brief. This went to a market research company which used focus groups to gauge people's responses to the charity. Meanwhile, Kitcatt Nohr worked closely with the charity, conducting interviews and getting to know its business and audience.

"What we found in our research suggested that people thought of Jewish Care as being a charity only for the elderly, which is not true," explains Nohr.

"There was little awareness of the charity in the Jewish community and many thought it was a large and wealthy organisation. Crucially, they perceived it as a provider of services and not as a requirer of funds, which was a bit of a problem in fundraising terms."

Justine Harris, director of marketing and communications at Jewish Care, says the charity needed to make sure its new material was relevant to its audience.

"We recognised the need to validate the anecdotal evidence that existed on the Jewish community's views of Jewish Care," she explains. "Without this, any new material we produced may not have addressed the key issues."

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