It’s not easy being a professional fundraiser. Often, good intentions and ideas lead to undesirable results. There are many reasons for failure: organizations fail to launch timely campaigns, they ignore what their research tells them, the marketing doesn’t communicate the correct call-to-action, or the chosen message doesn’t resonate with the selected audience. Successful campaigns are a result of an integrated communication process that starts with research, they’re directed by strategic planning, and are implemented effectively.
Market research is an important starting point. Without background information about your audience, you’re essentially flying blind. Market research is the only way to obtain critical information and strategic direction. You must identify your audience’s needs and perceptions, distribution channels, motivating issues, benefits and recognition, etc. Knowing and understanding these variables is critical to the process. It can feel foreign to ignore your own instincts, but when learning about the wants and needs of thousands of people, it’s important to put your own biases aside and figure out what your target market thinks.
Much like a cake only rises with certain ingredients, successful fundraising and engagement only works by knowing key factors about your audience. It’s best to start at the beginning. Ask yourself these five critical questions when evaluating your program:
Who, if anyone, has a real interest in political engagement?
How many potential donors are there in my eligible class?
How much are they willing to contribute?
Does my current program meet their needs to continue contributing over time?
How else can I motivate prospects and activists to advocate on behalf of the organization?
Knowing this information upfront will not only help you determine the market for your engagement and advocacy program, but it will also provide information that is critical if you want to implement a fundraising or grassroots campaign. Additionally, the process will yield valuable information about your stakeholders that will help fine-tune your ideas and program.
To fully understand any market, PAC and political managers need to put in the effort to understand their audience’s perspectives. Often, fundraisers have not taken the necessary steps to get to know their donors, just as grassroots professionals forget to determine what drives engagement. It’s not surprising the most successful programs are those that communicate with their stakeholders as much as possible and through multiple platforms.
Successful government affairs professionals listen from the very beginning. In order to evolve and adapt quickly in an ever-changing world, understanding attitudes and perceptions about advocacy and political engagement is paramount to thriving through both the difficult and the good times.
Market research is a prelude to successful fundraising and advocacy. It teaches you a great deal about what you will need to know to develop your brand for a specific market and whether your current program direction is worth developing or scrapping for something completely different. A positive and aggressive attitude toward market research enables you to make the most critical of decisions: Is doing what I am doing today going to be successful and make a positive impact in years to come?
In an era of short attention spans, quick media sound bites, hot takes and waning interest in political engagement, thoughtful and strategic advocacy is perhaps more important than ever. The message you communicate is your best bet to hit your mark and increase your engagement levels and fundraising receipts. If you have decided to make a career in political engagement and advocacy or campaign finance, then you need to rely on market research. Ultimately, the two are inseparable.