Learn More About Your Current Donors: Not for Profit Transformation Series

This is the sixth article in our eight-part series dedicated to helping NFPs develop data-driven marketing and advertising strategies to drive sustained donation growth.

December 17, 2021

Discover how qualitative and quantitative research can help drive more effective messaging and attract like-minded new donors.

Oftentimes, a nonprofit may set a goal about generating “net-new” donors, but fail to define the target audience(s) in enough detail to allow the in-house marketing team or agency to create campaigns and messaging. This usually stems from the fact that they don’t have a deep understanding of their existing best donors—so they don’t know how to look for more like them. 

In our work with NFPs, at the beginning of the project we will often ask the NFP, “Who are your best donors?” Most often, the answer we will get back is “anyone who cares about the cause in the US.” While that answer is technically true, it is also true that some people are more likely to donate than others.

For example, donors to UNICEF USA traditionally tended to be people who traveled abroad and saw the UNICEF logo on trucks delivering food or medicine for kids. Today, UNICEF USA and DELVE have developed many unique segments of donors that correspond to various missions that UNICEF USA is passionate about. However, it took time for DELVE and UNICEF USA to define all of those granular “segments” of donors, and to develop the necessary content and personalization across all digital advertising channels, to deliver double-digit YoY growth in donations.

Get to Know Your Core Donors…Before Looking for New Donors

This might not be revolutionary, but we strongly encourage NFPs to do two things that are tried and true, and likely won’t cost your NFP much to execute. 

Qualitative Research

You don’t have to be a primary researcher to do this well on your own. Consider a two-step primary research process, such as using a third-party email vendor:

Step 1: Open-Ended Questions Send a survey to a random group of people that represent 10% of your donor file (as an example), and ask basic questions such as “Which of our causes or initiatives do you care about most?” or “Why do you care about these specific causes”? Allow your donors to write out their verbatim responses.

Step 2: Grouped Questions Group those verbatim responses into relatively pre-defined and logical groups. For UNICEF USA, this would be about identifying which specific initiatives, shown in the below screenshot, do donors care most about—in priority order:

Step 3: Voice of Donor Next, we suggest that you invite some of these donors to talk with you directly. Have a conversation with them, human being to human being. Ask about how they found out about your NFP, why they started to donate, how they saw your NFPs mission evolve over the years, and why they continue to donate today. You may be surprised how much you will learn in the process, and how valuable these conversations will be for your marketing and advertising efforts.

Additional benefit: earlier in this series, we discussed appending “initiative” flags to your donor records. Qualitative research will help you start on that journey. When donors respond to your survey, you will be able to identify which of your NFP’s initiatives they care most about.

Quantitative Research

Your core file probably has thousands of donors in it. We suggest that you run a simple analysis of your donor database, to find out:

This data is important, because information such as ZIP Code can start to inform other psychographic information about your donors. For instance, you may learn that donors who live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (who may be in their 30s raising young kids), are different from donors who live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan (who may be in their 60s, and are retired). Initiatives that these donors will be most passionate about may be very different, and their profiles are likely very different as well.

In Summary

Sometimes going back to basics is exactly what’s needed to reset how you approach marketing and advertising. The examples of qualitative and quantitative methods outlined above for discovering basic segmentation about your donors will require time, but almost no money.

However, if you can execute basic qualitative and quantitative research, you will be ready to expand on those learnings, and to consider appending your existing donor file with second-party data. More on this topic in the next article in this series, Append Second-Party Data to Your Donor File. We also encourage you to read our NFP Manifesto as well as our latest research on reaching Millennial Donors.

Ready to get started? Contact us today at begin@delvedeeper.com.


Reaching Millennial Donors

Want to gain a deeper understanding of how and why Millennial donors 25-35 years of age give to social causes? Start with our 2021 Research Report, created in partnership with Aspen Finn.