As part of our strategic planning and budgeting for next year it is appropriate to pay close attention to growing our non-profit business with the eye of new member and donor acquisition. This article sets out a prescription that has been successfully implemented and deserves consideration. Lack of membership and revenue growth are signs of stagnation and decline.

Associations and charities have a lot in common in their dependence on funding to achieve the outcomes envisaged at their establishment. Both types of incorporation are based on satisfying the needs and wants of their constituents and supporters. In this respect they are not unlike for-profit companies that rely on their relevance to a market. In common with commercial enterprises non-profit entities deal with a segmented consumer base consisting of layers that can be defined in respect of size, special needs and demographic profile. The difference occurs in the way the complexities of the market are dealt with. What it comes down to is an understanding of the different types of consumers, members or donors. For simplicity’s sake we will call them clients.

With increasing competition for clients between the voluntary and profit driven sectors it is timely to review our strategies. This is to ensure that we address our target market with greater certainty of achieving a level of service satisfaction that will retain them as members or supporters. They will serve as influencers to others to join our association or to become committed donors. For too long have we relied on unproven assumptions that are no longer valid when we deal with a younger, more critical demographic. The long held belief that our client base is very broad and that we have to appeal to everyone on the same basis no longer holds true. We have to appreciate that, in order to grow our support base, we need to create an audience of prospects that spans the broad spectrum of participants in our industry, interest or benefit sector.

The messages to reach sub-sets have to be diverse to be effective. A good example of this can be seen in the Our Auckland newsletter that is issued to all householders and business addresses. To engage its readers effectively it is specified differently to the inhabitants of each city ward. For many non-profits adopting this strategy depends on their ability to break their membership or donors into key constituency groups. This calls for a good understanding of our subscribers and what they expect in return for their loyalty to our cause or interest. Getting to know them better requires research and testing. This can be achieved in two ways, either with an on-line click and tick tool like Survey Monkey or by way of face-to-face interviews, which can be more cost effective. Few faceless samples achieve the desired qualitative returns for the simple reason that they are too short and superficial or too long and complex. Interview style research has the advantage of achieving a predetermined reach that can be quantified according to subsets of membership or donor base.

Surveys can be augmented with focus group feed-back. This can be revealing, based on a recent experience. In this case a public benefit entity convened a group of existing clients and their support persons to ascertain brand recognition, which is as relevant to non-profit entities as it is to the corporate sector. Having a name and logo that attracts public attention is in our interest as voluntary service providers and member representative functionaries. Participants were requested to draw the emblem of a widely advertised product. The results were astounding. While most participants chose popular, well-known and widely used brands, few were able to draw a reasonably accurate brand logo. With clear and distinguishable branding at stake, non-profits are well advised to choose a design that ideally is based on the industry, cause or service that the organisation personifies. What matters is that your brand stands out, as well as indicating what it stands for. We can take a few lessons in this regard from the Australian Consumer Business Bureau Inc. to steer us in the right direction.

There are five ways to ascertain who and what our customer is.

  1. What are we here for, what do we want to achieve?

Don’t assume that your members or supporters have a clear understanding of the services and support we are set up to provide to them. For example your charity might offer services to people with impairments (at least this is as you view the organisation}. Approaching this from a user’s perspective, you might say your NFP removes barriers for people with impairments – it provides freedom.

  1. Build an image of your prospective member or beneficiary.

Start with looking at your current membership or support data base to form an opinion on their identity. Depending on the nature of your organisation, you may want to know their occupational or business status, location, life stage and special interests or needs. Finding answers calls for profiling that can be achieved with incentivised on-line surveys and follow-up telephone calls.

  1. Why do they belong to your association of support your cause?

Your primary research should include existing, past and potential members or donors. Quantitative surveying software can obtain large scale responses about your constituents’ motivation, frustrations and appreciation of your organisation. In depth on-site interviews may be required if distance surveys reveal evidence of discontent and disengagement in a representative sample of respondents.

  1. Observing your competitors or kindred organisations.

Evaluating how related entities operating in your market re interacting with your constituency will also give you insights. Look at how they position their brand and messages. Similarly observe organisations in other fields within the same target market. How are they communicating with their audience? Is there something that you can learn from their marketing communications model?

  1. Tune in digitally to be noticed and understood.

Even the most stable membership or support structure will change over time, but in this age we are able to have greater insights into our market. The best way to start is with a free website measuring tool like Google Analytics, which account for web visitors, dwell time, bounce rates, visitor demographics and devices used. You can also monitor keywords used to find your website and ensure your SEO is up to scratch.


If this article reveals room for improvement in your organisation, but on first impression you lack the capabilities to spring into action, we can recommend recourse to cost effective sources of assistance to achieve meaningful results. There is no better time than now to test the effectiveness of your member or donor engagement. Taking a critical look at your database with the benefit of a better understanding of your constituency will future proof your association or charity. NZARC would welcome suggestions and enquiries from subscribers, who are good role models or intent on getting to know their members and supporters much better, which can be addressed to Laura Jenkins on Tel (09) 419-0042 or by email at