Nonprofit marketing research is vital...and affordable

In a two-part series on marketing research, veteran marketer and Nonprofit University faculty member Debra Semans breaks down why this type of data is vital for nonprofits, provides a primer on the process, and offers tips for executing it on a budget. 

In part one, Semans provides eight decision points in the leadup to executing marketing research that will not only help your nonprofit focus on what is most important, but cut costs by ensuring you are not duplicating efforts or overscaling the design.

Marketing research is an invaluable decision making tool utilized by most for-profit businesses. Unfortunately, many nonprofits believe they don’t have the budget to take advantage of this tremendous resource. But the decision should not be about budget; rather, it should be about risk. After all, what’s the cost of making a bad decision? How much is it worth to know in advance that your constituents really need and are well-served by an expensive new program? Remember to evaluate the cost of marketing research in light of the rich value of the improved decision making it can provide.

Marketing research projects can be designed to fit any budget. You just need to understand what drives research costs and what information you need to design the best project at the right price point. It’s not all about questionnaires or focus groups, and different points along the process can have a big impact on the overall project cost. Understanding the marketing research process and how to navigate through it based on your organization's needs can save money.

There are many decision points that every organization must address when planning market research. Below, read eight of the most common, along with key questions that can be answered to help crystalize your focus and manage your costs.

Define the problem and research objectives

Take the time to really think about this. What problem are you solving? What information do you already have about the problem and what do you need? And what people do you need to reach to get that information? This is usually done internally, but having a discussion with one or more marketing research professionals can hone your thinking and may give you a new perspective. Most marketing researchers consider these types of discussions part of their marketing effort and will not charge for them.

Determine the research design

This is best done by someone with a good background in marketing research. However, you can always put forth what you think will work and ask your marketing research partner to suggest alternative designs that may save money.

Identify data types and sources

Do you really need marketing research or could the data you need be available from some other source? If the data is available from government, industry, or other sources, it may be much less expensive than doing your own marketing research.

Determine sample plan and size

Sample is one of the largest individual costs in any research project. So understanding who you need to talk to, how many you need, and how you can most effectively reach them is critical to getting the best marketing research value. Especially consider the size of the sample against the use of the information – you may not need a sample of 1,000 to answer the question and that could save you a bundle. (Here’s a great calculator for determining optimal sample size.)

Design data collection forms and questionnaires

This is another area best left to professionals. Marketing researchers know how to ask questions to get good quality, unbiased information. Many times, creating your own questionnaire can lead to the unintentional introduction of bias in the results. Feel free to start a first draft, but leave the final questionnaire to the professionals.

Collect the data

Fortunately for buyers, data collection has become a commodity. While it can still account for a large portion of the total project cost, it is usually very competitively priced. And there are many do-it-yourself tools available to further save on this cost.

Analyze and interpret the data

You may be able to do this in-house, depending on the complexity of the analysis and the sensitivity of the results. If you don’t have the necessary analytical skills (or even if you suspect you don’t), you must make sure this step is done correctly.

Prepare the research report and present the findings

Do you really need an outsider to write the report or present the data? Do you really need a formal report? Can the presentation be done by a web conference? These are areas where you can save money.

In part two of this series, Semans will offer resources, tools, and ideas to help move from an understanding of marketing research basics to executing your new plan.

Debra S. Semans has more than 30 years experience in marketing, including as senior vice president at Polaris Marketing Research, vice president of The Brand Consultancy, vice president for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, vice president at Holiday Inn Worldwide, and director of new market development at BellSouth. She also owns and operates Debra Semans Marketing Research. You can reach her at [email protected].


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