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The Perilous state of research in not for profits revealed

There is a surprising reluctance among charity and PR communicators to use original market research to inform campaign development.

As a novel start-up in a poorly-researched space, we needed to validate the problems Whirli is solving. Sapio Research were fantastic partners from start to finish – creative in brainstorming angles, careful in designing the questions, and rigorous in analysing the results. The research brought a wealth of insights, backed by hard figures, for our business decision making and for us to talk about publicly in the press.

Nigel Phan
Founder
Whirli

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Planned PR is the most effective PR and if people don’t know about a service, facility or new initiative, the effort behind the scenes is wasted, so the role PR and Comms play is essential.

Within not for profits (NFPs) some Comms professionals are career communicators, others take on the role through fortuitous timing, or the lack of anybody else to grasp the reins. But regardless of their background, there is a surprising reluctance among charity and PR communicators to use original market research to inform campaign development.

Research we conducted with Campaign Collective into this issue found that almost a third (27%)[1] have concerns about using original market research to build campaigns or inform strategy, suggesting too many plans are built on intuition alone.

However, around one half (49%) has commissioned an external company to help with this in the past – so there are signs for encouragement.

Our research shows that the biggest barrier to NFPs using research is, perhaps unsurprisingly, cost (46%), probably because nearly 90% of the UK’s 160,000 charities[2] have an income below £500k per year. 

There is a big prize to fight for though as 44 million[3] of us donate to charity on a regular basis, so the need to be slick, relevant and targeted is ever more important.  Similarly, with 73 [4] of social enterprises earning more than 75% of their income from trade, developing relevant “go to” market plans by knowing your market is essential too.

The second biggest barrier to commissioning external research was the lack of trust in data quality (22%).  As difficult as that is for a professional consultancy to read, it’s not unexpected in these ‘Post truth-era’ times.  Having confidence in the data you call upon, of course is key, given that as PR professionals you’re often tasked with building all important brand trust. But how can you be confident in the stats you find and the insights you formulate?

Identifying relevant, reliable data information sources at zero cost is clearly needed as our respondents have quite a few questions about their target audience. After all, if you don’t understand who you are targeting, how can you make your response more relevant and personalised? The questions they want answers to span from – understanding the needs of their target audience, perception of themselves and understanding how they can change behaviour (see infographic)

While many of the questions are specific to a given organisation and would require original, bespoke surveys, such as judging impact or evaluating awareness, others, for example understanding barriers to using a service can be answered, to an extent, by readily available free information.  Faced with the huge world wide web at our disposal can be overwhelming though, so in two further blog posts we will provide you with some hints and tips on how to get started:

We will be discussing the findings of our research and providing more tips at the PRCA event on research in NFPs on 11 October.

  • [1] Sapio Research and Campaign Collective, April 2017
  • [2] www.nfpsynergy.net
  • [3] www.nfpsynergy.net
  • [4] https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/state-of-social-enterprise-report-2015