Donor development – 5 tips to help plan your focus groups

The next in our top tip series – this time on donor development and fundraising research.

The lifeblood of charities is fundraising; either from statuary bodies and trust or from individuals, it’s what keeps the charity afloat.  Recent stories in the press have highlighted the need for charities to manage their fundraising differently, less emphasis on using lists and reciprocals and more engaging with relationships where the donor is more in control.

We have done many donor development groups and consultations and here we share some of the knowledge we have gathered over the years that may help you to explore and develop the best way to consult with your donors and potential funders. These tips are all about qualitative insight – face to face.  Surveys can go a long way to help pin point some aspects that are working well or need improvement, but its the qualitative work that will give the extra actionable insight. Focus groups are also not a fundraising guise by other means; it’s true insight where true development can take place. So here are 5 things we’ve learnt to explore with our clients when planning donor focus groups.

1: Recruitment:  The nirvana of focus groups for charities is donors.  Every client we have ever spoken to wants to talk to their donors in a few focus groups in a central location over a couple of days and from that they can start on their development plans.  Recruitment from lists is notoriously difficult.  At least a ratio of 10:1 is needed.  For that you will need a list of donors with full contact details, who live very close together and are available on that particular day.

2: Format:  Focus groups may not always be possible so flexibility of format is vital.  We are experienced in all aspects of face to face so can adapt our sessions to include 1:1 depths, paired depths and even telephone/Skype.  Often, this can be done at the same time as a focus group so it’s an efficient use of time and insight can still be gleaned.

3:Timing: The profile of donors is often older so focus groups in the evening may not work so consider day time groups.  Consider also more informal venues, not necessarily viewing suites.

4: Acquisition:  New blood is vital and many charities look to younger donors to help secure better lifetime values.  BUT be careful that you do not use focus groups of much younger potential donors unless you want to understand what type of relationship they are able to have with you, not one that can replicate what your current donors already have.  Use these groups to fully explore motivations, use of technology for donating and their honest (or as close as can get ) likelihood to engage with you.

5: Realism:  Do not research donor values.  Respondents do not like talking about money publicly and will either dramatically inflate their worth to the charity or completely dismiss.  If financial values are important to understand do it as part of exploring elements to a specific scheme e.g. capitol appeal, regular giving, membership, major gifts, legacies. Corporate CSR schemes.

We hope this gives you an idea of the things to consider before putting a brief together, or even running the groups themselves.  Do not hesitate to contact us if you need any guidance in shaping your research strategies.  We know what we’re doing, have worked successfully on many many fundraising research projects and have helped charities develop successful donor development strategies despite the challenges that face them all.