How Performing Nonprofit Market Research Can Help Boost Donations and Support



You walk into your nonprofit and fire up your computer in the hope of doing some “research” to discover ways to boost your donations and increase your supporters.

You’ve hit a wall—not with your passion, but with your growth. What seemed to be flowing last year regarding donations and support is now ebbing. You’re at a standstill. And that can be a bit scary when you don’t know which way to go… 

You come across a few ways other nonprofits have boosted support, so you figure you’ll give them a try. You don’t really know which approach will work, but hey, it’s better to try something, even if you aren’t quite sure how it’ll work out…right?

Actually, no.

This is the hard truth. Marketing isn’t a game of chance. After all, we are dealing with something that you’ve told others is your purpose, passion, and calling.

The way you market your cause has a huge impact on how people come to understand your cause. Therefore, doing your nonprofit market research in a strategic way that yields the best outcome and aligns with your mission is crucial.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Marketing can be fickle. What works for one organization (or many) may not work for yours. This is why audience-focused market research is so critical, especially if you are trying to connect with more donors for your nonprofit and raise more money from potential donors.

Here’s the thing: For nonprofits, it's essential for your audience to make a heart connection to your cause, or they will not feel connected enough to support you.

We know. We know. It sounds a bit negative, but this is how the human mind works. Heart-felt connection equals long-time support.

The problem is that you can’t discover what makes your supporters’ hearts leap based upon a generic market study or what others have done, nor should you trust your instincts and assumptions about your audience. In order to know what moves them, you must ask them.

You need data that yields a deeper awareness of what is important to your audience and how your mission will directly affect their lives and belief systems.

If you can capture your audience members’ hearts, you will garner their support. The good news? You can do this easily by diving deep into nonprofit market research.

How Nonprofit Market Research Translates into More Donations

The benefits of nonprofit market research are numerous.

For one, it keeps you accountable to relying on audience data rather than hunches and assumptions, which may or may not be accurate. People may not think or feel the way you do, even if they vow to support the same cause.

By understanding your donors and supporters at a deeper level, you can also more effectively speak their language and connect with their reason for wanting to support your cause.

With this data, you will make better marketing decisions, communicate with more clarity about how your cause changes lives, and better assess your successes (and failures) to track your progress over time.

The final result? More donations and support to further your cause.

And best of all, nonprofit market research may not require a lot of money. Though true market research will require some resources, there are lower-cost alternatives as well.

Later in this article, we’ll talk about some ways to conduct market research regardless of your budget.

Where to Use Your Market Research

Research will inform and benefit several areas of your nonprofit marketing strategy.

Start Here: The Beginning of Nonprofit Market Research

Before you dive headfirst into the throws of market research, it’s critical that you start some preliminary discussions around goals and objectives. Don’t feel like you need to go at this alone. Ask your team of board members, volunteers, and paid staff.

Define your objectives before you do anything else. This will lead to an organized approach so that you can get the most out of your marketing campaigns. Start from the end first and answer key questions about what you want to accomplish using your market research data. Answering these questions will help you define your objectives.

What are you looking to gain with your marketing? (e.g., get more volunteers, sell tickets to a fundraising event, etc.)

What questions do you need answers to? This requires some thinking about what your objectives are. Here are some examples. (Note: These will be specific to your organization, but the following will give you some insight.)

Knowing the end result will help you determine not only the method of market research but also the content.

For example, let’s say you wanted to know if specific programs would be interesting to your supporters. Your objective would be to nail down the ideal local programs/events that would result in the highest participation.

For this objective, you want to target a specific segment of your audience that would participate in a local event (resides in your city). You may also want to talk to people who have participated in an event prior since they already have experienced one.

Even better, after you hold a local event, it’s a perfect time to gather information from your participants to get feedback on what they thought while the event is fresh in their minds.

Starting from the end goal like this will help you work backward and figure out the best way to gather information from your supporters to help you meet your objectives.

According to expert market research consultant Pauline Lewis, as reported by, “The phrase ‘GIGO,’ or ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ definitely applies to market research. You have to know what end result you want from the question before you ask the question. That ties back to your objectives. In market research, there’s no such thing as a bad answer, just a bad question.”

Well said, Pauline. We couldn’t agree more. Any answer given is useful for determining in which direction you should go. 

Types of Market Research

Generally, 2 types of market research exist: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative Market Research

Qualitative market research is focused on listening and observing. It’s where you will discover what your supporters prefer, what motivates them, and what drives their behavior.

It‘s important to note here that market research is best performed on segments of your audience, groups of people categorized by things such as behavior and preferences. If you target your entire audience with each research method, your data will be too broad and not targeted enough to meet your objectives.

Take a serious look at who your ideal customer is, demographics and all, then think of them as a friend. What would they tell you they want. Shannon quote

Let’s look at our earlier example of gathering data for local events. Say you did a fun run for your organization. If you sent surveys to all of your supporters, not just the ones who participated, what message would that send?

It would likely confuse those who didn’t participate and quite possibly even communicate that there is a lack of organization or care to those who are receiving irrelevant messaging. It can also skew your data because it won’t inform your objectives. To learn more about proper segmenting as it relates to marketing strategy, check out this article.

Qualitative research typically involves focus groups and interviews. What does this look like? Here’s an overview of the steps involved:

  1. Choose an objective for your research. What are you hoping to discover from talking to your audience?
  2. Choose a segment to talk to that would help you achieve your objective. For example, if you’re looking for feedback on how your brand performs with local supporters, gather this segment of your local donors. You can also get more focused and segment based on age, income level, etc.
  3. Create open-ended questions to ask your participants. Your questions should be open-ended enough so that participants can provide enough detail to give you valuable feedback, yet not too open-ended that they feel too overwhelmed to answer. For more information, here’s an in-depth post on focus groups and open-ended questions.
  4. Gather your chosen segment into focus groups or schedule interviews. Focus groups will cost more money, but they can be highly valuable for market research. One-on-one interviews are less expensive and can also be valuable since participants will be more willing to divulge true feelings instead of being intimidated by communicating in front of a group of peers. If these methods are too expensive, consider online forums/bulletin boards instead.
  5. Depending on how many objectives you have, speak to at least 5 people in each segment. Less than 3-5 and you may not get enough data to support a hypothesis.

Quantitative Market Research

To prove your findings from your qualitative research, we recommend you run quantitative research. Quantitative research focuses on sending surveys to your segments. 

Surveys are beneficial because you can gather a large amount of data in a short period of time. You can also send online surveys to hundreds and thousands of people without much effort.

Surveys need to be done right though to get valuable feedback that informs your objectives. Check out this article to learn more about how to run effective market research surveys. Also, here are some sample donor survey questions.

We also recommend you launch a test survey to a small subset of your chosen segment before you launch your official survey. If you receive the data you expect from this test run, launch it to your entire segment. If not, you have the opportunity to tweak the questions and try again.

Market Research Tips to Remember

Ready to perform nonprofit market research? Before you do, here are some tips to keep in mind:

When in Doubt, Start with Observation

Nonprofit market research can get tedious, but in actuality, it has everything to do with observing and keeping your mind focused on discovery. If you are looking for somewhere to start, you’d be amazed by how much market research you can conduct every day while on the phone with supporters, at events with donors, or even talking to staff.

If you’re still at a loss as to where and how to start, don’t stress! Schedule a FREE consultation with us HERE.

Devise a few top questions and keep them top of mind when communicating with your supporters. Distribute these questions to staff members as well. Your supporters are always talking. The more you open your ears, the more you will gather valuable feedback.

When you are ready, start performing qualitative research and then move into quantitative data to prove your findings.


In this article, we discussed why nonprofit market research is key to increasing donations and furthering your cause and how it will benefit your organization.

We summarized how to conduct market research starting with defining your objectives, performing qualitative research, and running some quantitative surveys to prove or disprove your findings.

Getting this type of feedback directly from the people you connect with is invaluable for promoting your mission and growing your organization.

We understand that nonprofit market research can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Need help? We love to make marketing simple. Make sure you’re getting started on the right foot and contact us here for a free consultation.

We can help you connect with the hearts of your supporters and audience so you can boost awareness of your cause. There is someone out there right now who is asking questions that only your organization can answer. They don’t yet know how you can help them, but with increased support, you’ll have the power to reach them. Nonprofit market research is the first step to hitting your goals and helping those in need.


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Filed Under: Marketing by Industry

About Lindsey Perron

As Thomas’ daughter, Lindsey was introduced to the world of sales and marketing at an early age. Curious about what her dad did, Lindsey would jump at every opportunity to help and ride along on sales calls. Always quick to take charge and lead the group—a trait that has only grown with time—Lindsey was frequently told by her parents that she was destined to be a manager or CEO of some sort. While working toward earning her bachelor’s degree in human services from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Lindsey interned with the UW Office of Equality and Affirmative Action and served on several councils, which gave her the opportunity to develop her persuasive writing skills, researching skills, problem-solving skills, project management skills, and more. After working as the lead teacher of the 4-year-old room at the local daycare center, Lindsey decided to switch gears and join the Viral Solutions team. In her position, Lindsey is able to help clients think through an end goal and reverse engineer it into the steps needed to achieve it.

When she’s not working, Lindsey loves spending time with family, be it traveling somewhere together or just hanging out at home.