Get to Know Your Supporters

Four Ways to Get to Know Them Better

Rule number one in nonprofit marketing is defining and knowing your target audience. Who are you writing that newsletter for, or hoping will see that flyer? Who do you want to follow you on Facebook and Twitter?

Getting to know your supporters, volunteers, clients, and other participants in your mission is easy, if you build that listening and learning into your everyday work. I dedicated an entire chapter called "Listen to the World Around You" to this in my book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide (Amazon).

Here are four of my favorite ways to get to know people better.

1. Be Curious, All the Time

Anytime you are talking to someone about your work, ask a question or two that helps you better understand where that person is coming from and why they care about your work. You'll not only become a better conversationalist, but will also learn a great deal. It's all about being curious about other people!

2. Formalize that Curiosity

You probably have a number of forms that you ask people to fill out. See if you can add one or two more optional questions that will help you understand your target audiences better. Even if only a small percentage of people answer the question, you'll still end up with some interesting anecdotal information you didn't have otherwise. For example, we present a survey at the end of every single one of our webinars. Maybe half of attendees typically fill it out, but that's enough participation to give us some rich insights.

3. Convene Informal Focus Groups

Informal focus groups are a great way to learn a great deal, very quickly. Get a small group of people together who have something in common, and ask a series of questions to get the conversation going. I did this recently for a client by taking six women over 65 out to lunch to talk about how they decided which local causes to support; what would make them want to give more, or give less; and what kind of information they wanted to receive from local charities. It was an easy, fun conversation and the results were very enlightening -- I will be making  several recommendations to my client as a direct result of that focus group.

4. Conduct an Online Survey

If you send an email newsletter, dedicate one edition to asking people to take an online survey, and then promote that survey in other places like Facebook too. I like using a combination of quick-response questions, where people can answer with a single click, such as ranking their interest in several topics, or picking their favorite answer from a list. But also include at least one open-ended text box where your participants can answer in their own words. These are harder to tabulate, but often very rich in information.

This article first appeared in Kivi's weekly Nonprofit Marketing Tips newsletter on July 6, 2011.