Understanding the Needs of Your Audience

Understanding the Needs of Your Audience

Marketing and advertising gurus for decades have made a living off of predicting the needs and wants of the consumer. Not just predicting what consumers want now, but accurate predictions of future behavior. And while these professions sometimes get a bad rap for being manipulative or relying too heavily on stereotypes, there are lessons nonprofits should learn from these marketing techniques. Namely – when crafting a communication strategy, it’s important to understand your audience.

It is vitally important to understand the motivations of your audiences, rather than creating a strategy in a vacuum. A communication strategy is useless without defined goals and an explicit audience. When it comes to goals, it is important to start with simple, but direct, questions. Who are you communicating with? What do you want them to do? What is your definition of success when working with your constituents? Defining these answers will help you understand your needs and wants and can help structure how you research your audiences.

Discovering how you communicate should start as simply as determining who your audience is. Nonprofits communicate with many different constituent groups – donors, volunteers, people who receive services, the general public, etc. And each of these different audiences have different needs and expectations. Having content that speaks to everyone, and isn’t specific to anyone, struggles to drive engagement. Understanding your audience means not only segmentation, but understanding what each segment expects, and what each group needs.

In addition to understanding your audience, understanding the scope of your potential audience is equally as critical. Your audience can be broken down into three main components – your core audience (constituents, volunteers, donors), your community (the extension of friends of your core audience), and your network (an even broader group that includes people who have little/no relationship with your organization). While you may only be directly speaking to your core audience, your constituents have the ability to extend your potential reach much farther to their own networks, meaning that it is important to understand what motivates your audience to share your message. Is it a personal connection, is it belief in your cause, or is it the opportunity to publicize their support?

It’s one thing to describe the importance of knowing your audience – it’s another to actually go through the steps to attain it. There are many different methods of learning more about your constituent base, from surveys, focus groups, or specific volunteer task forces. Determining which one is right for your organization will depend on what information you’re hoping to learn. If you’re looking for general demographic and behavior information, a survey (whether done electronically, in person, or over the phone) is the simplest way to capture large amounts of information. If you need more specific feedback, or believe that you can identify certain individuals that are true representatives of a particular audience, focus groups and individual interviews are the stronger choices.

Once you know more about your audience, it’s time to put this data into action through making subtle shifts in your strategy to reflect the needs of your community. By learning what motivates your audience, or what causes them to behave in a way that represents engagement with your cause, you can shift your strategy behind your interactions and relationships. If your audience is more prone to act when getting public recognition, it’s time to shift your communication from one of private thanks to more public acknowledgement. If your core group enjoys interacting and motivating friends, strategy should be implemented that allows content that is easy to share and is personable.

Engagement from your community can have many steps, with each being as important as any other. But knowing more about your audience – why they are interested in your organization, how they interact with your cause, who they are most likely to talk to about your nonprofit, is key to structuring effective, efficient, and engaging communication. Take the time to speak with your audience to learn more about them – and not just at them.


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