The Value of Mixed Methods Donor Research

The Far Edge of Promise has as a core fundraising philosophy the concept of knowing donors as personally as possible.  This concept is simple, tried-and-true, exceptionally powerful, and leads to meaningful gifts from gratified donors.  It also is rarely implemented well.

For instance, most institutions can answer the following question about each of their top 100 donors:

  • What other institutions or organizations does the donor support financially?

Institutions regularly answer such questions by utilizing electronic donor research tools.  Conducting a search through Lexis-Nexis for Development Professionals, GuideStar, Newsbank, Google, or one of a number of other online resources can provide a decent snapshot of a donor’s charitable giving.

But there is a related question that adds tremendous value to our understanding:

  • How does our institution rank for the donor in terms of their charitable priorities?

This is a different question than simply, “how much did they give and to which organizations?”  Electronic donor research can tell us this.

Instead, this question seeks to better understand how important our institution is to the donor.  This is valuable because it gives us a more comprehensive understanding of donor values, experiences, relationships, and even plans for the future.  Electronic donor research does not tell us this.

The only dependable way to understand how an individual donors ranks our institution is to spend time with them, ask well-crafted questions, and listen actively – to conduct donor research in person.

Conducting both electronic and visit-based research is a mixed methods approach to donor research.  The value of mixed methods is easily understood – we learn far more personal and valuable information about our donors.

Electronic research can tell us a lot.  It can tell us the facts.  It can provide us with the outline of donor decisions.  It can  give us a better sense of capacity. But a mixed methods approach which utilizes in-person visit research paints a much broader, penetrative, and more vibrant picture of our donors.

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