At nfpSynergy we’re always working to give our clients the latest stats on what the public think of charities and how they interact with them. Whether it’s what proportion currently trust the sector (56%), what the ideal charity would spend on fundraising costs (14%) or how far the public support the Fundraising Preference Service (31% ‘definitely’, 33% ‘probably’), we’ve got our finger on the pulse when it comes to public opinion.
However, we also know that quantitative research doesn’t always provide the full picture. When filling out a survey, respondents spend just a few seconds considering their response – thus, results are likely to demonstrate instantaneous reactions or gut feelings about an issue which may or may not have been considered before.
This is hugely valuable – but can’t necessarily tell us why the response was given, the explanation or reasoning behind it or, sometimes, how closely it will reflect ‘real life’ behaviours.
Qualitative methodologies can be helpful for getting behind the stats and understanding the nuances that may not show up in the headline statistics.
A focus group, for example, allows participants time to process their reactions through discussion. They hear the opinions of others and are required to think through, explain and rationalise their responses. They may even contradict themselves over the course of the discussion – perhaps convinced by a persuasive argument – or they may moderate their views in order to reach group consensus.
The focus group format brings us closer to the process of opinion forming we all go through in our daily lives; in the pub, at the dinner table or in the work canteen.
When we used this methodology to explore responses to charity CEO pay, for example, we found that in many cases the responses were far more carefully reasoned and had many caveats in how participants understood the issue – which we could not have anticipated from the survey data alone. Take a look at more examples of our qualitative research here.
An online community, too, can be a powerful tool for better understanding the donor relationship with charities.
Taking place over a number of days, weeks or even months, we can watch engagement with charities or campaigns unfold through the group discussions, individual questions and journal entries which participants complete. Rather than trying to understand motivations to support a particular charity by asking the public directly in a survey, participants record their engagement and behaviours when it comes to charities, step by step, as it happens.
As our Christmas online community showed, participants sometimes even surprised themselves – the way they behaved when it came to the reality of an interaction with a charity (such as their response to a powerful campaign) didn’t match the reaction they would have assumed themselves to have had.
Whilst none of this undermines the value of the gut reaction (indeed, such feelings can make or break a charity/donor relationship) or the need track public action and behaviours through a representative sample, it is a reminder to question, investigate and ask ‘why’ or ‘how’ – all things which qualitative research can help us do this.
Over the next 12 months, we’ll be complementing our quantitative research programme with the general public (the Charity Awareness Monitor and Brand Attributes Monitor) by running a range of focus groups and online communities.
We’ll be aiming to dig deeper into the data that we find in our quantitative research – and we’ll be ready to react to any major media stories that break for the sector, to get a clear and in-depth understanding of how the public are responding.
In addition, we’d like to know what topics you think that we should be exploring through qualitative research. What areas of interest for the sector need more than stats to help us understand them? Leave your questions, comments, or thoughts below.