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A Publication of WTVP

Whether we're in the social service industry or the for-profit industry, the cost of making business, service, or marketing decisions can be costly and dangerous without marketing research to guide our course. Albert Einstein once said, "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" And if we don't have primary and secondary research available to us, we won't know where we are or where we're going.

Marketing research helps us reach our organizations' goals and operate more efficiently and effectively. From small businesses just starting out to large corporations and from nonprofits to government agencies, research plays an important role in changing attitudes, developing new products, and keeping in touch with the needs of our donors, customers, and clients.

Marketing research is so much more than just providing data. It's an integral component of the management team. If we want to hear the voice of the customer, it's marketing research that begins that dialog. There are three major benefits of utilizing this type of research: market planning, problem solving, and monitoring. From creating or changing a new service or advertising plan to determining why sales or donations are low, opening dialog with customers will determine where we are and if we're meeting their needs.

For the social service industry and other nonprofit organizations, it's vital to understand the perceptions and concerns of our donors. Market research allows our organizations to determine how aware they are of our mission, examine why they support us, measure their satisfaction, and identify how they learned about us. This information is essential to evaluating and improving services, while at the same time aiding us in implementing better planning and allocation of resources.

Examination, evaluation, measurement, discovery, and understanding are what market research brings to the table. In the upcoming months, the Heart of Illinois United Way will be sitting at that table while we put into place two vital research projects: primary research focusing on perceptions of our donors and non-donors and a community assessment that will be used as an additional tool for the allocation process.

Donors and non-donors will be invited to participate in a series of focus groups. Results from this study will be used for marketing efforts that will help the United Way encourage current donors to give more, retain current donors through job changes and/or retirement, and recruit new donors.

Our community assessment, in conjunction with the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, will review existing data from the six-county area represented by our United Way by looking at trends and conclusions based on a demographic overview of the community.

Why conduct research? Because it's vital to have the information we need for analysis and, ultimately, planning. If we're to make more informed and effective decisions, it's important to step back and take a serious look at where we're heading. IBI

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