Getting to know your audience

Stacy Jones
Stacy Jones

Stacy Jones

“Seniors don’t look for services on the internet.”  This statement made at a conference by a leader in the senior-services field is not unlike other comments made by nonprofit leaders about their intended audience.

In fact, a 1999 report by Media Matrix focused on the fact that older users had become the fastest growing demographic on the Internet and that baby boomers totaled 20 percent of all online users in the US.  Let’s not forget that report is almost 10 years old and computers and internet access are more accessible than ever.

No matter who the intended audience may be, the reality is that nonprofits are often faced with more questions about their audience than they have answers.  In response to uncertainty, nonprofits make assumptions, guess about their audience’s habits and find they struggle to get the word out about their organization. Conducting market research is the key to unlocking the answers and getting to know your audience better. Market research can be simple, informative and even affordable.

When thinking about using market research strategies, think about what questions are important in getting to know how your audience receives information.

Questions could include how your current and intended audience would like to hear from you (website, e-mail marketing, direct mail, newspaper, radio) and how often. Ask how your audience generally finds information on services, volunteer opportunities and donating. Answers to these questions can go a long way in helping to shape future marketing efforts.

Track what’s working. One of the easiest first steps is to track what marketing strategies are already working.  As new clients, donors or volunteers first come to the organization, always ask how they heard about you.  Track their responses and see what’s working best and what’s not.

Survey your own constituency. Using a practical survey tool like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey, nonprofits can easily and affordably send a survey to current and intended audiences and ask important questions to help make their marketing efforts more strategic. 

Focus Groups. Bring your intended audience together in small focus groups to really get to the heart of the matter.  Focus groups allow you to ask targeted questions and get feedback from your audience in a way that allows discussion about the topic. Focus groups tend to have 6-10 participants and can last from 1 to 2 hours.

Talking to others. Talk to other nonprofits or even local businesses that market themselves to your intended audience.  Find out what’s working for them and what’s not.  Share ideas, explore market research studies already completed about your audience and put practical changes in place.

Using some simple marketing research strategies can help a nonprofit go a long way in maximizing limited resources and reaching intended audiences more strategically.

Stacy Jones is a nonprofit marketing consultant based in Troy, N.Y. and a Shoestring Creative Group Network Affiliate.  Stacy can be reached at or 888.835.6236.

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