The untapped potential of small business donors

For several years now I’ve been suggesting to my local nonprofit community that they are leaving money on the table if they don’t develop strategies to cultivate small business donors to support their causes. Whenever I’d mention this idea I’d see nods of agreement but no action.

It may seem easier to pursue a few large corporations for bigger sums that a cadre of small businesses for smaller amounts of money. After all, in a community like ours there’s a limited number of large corporations and they typically have staff dedicated to philanthropy.

However, most of the companies in Colorado and metro Denver have fewer than 100 employees, with a large majority employing under 50. When I say most I mean over 90 percent. As such, I maintain that metro Denver nonprofits are losing out by not developing relationships with small businesses.

A recent survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy confirmed the importance of developing this strategy. The Chronicle found that small businesses do give to charity and are generous. The survey of 750 business leaders of companies with fewer than 100 employees was conducted in partnership with American Express. The survey found that:

  • Three-quarters of small-business owners donate a percentage of their profits to nonprofits.
  • On average, small companies contribute 6 percent of their profits to charity.
  • Female business owners tend to give more than men.

Here’s a call to action to Denver-area nonprofits. We’re here and we care about our communities. We are open to learning about your causes and see how they align with our passions and company missions. And I’m not suggesting that a cold-call end-of-year appeal letter is going to do the trick. Connect with me – and engage me – and I’ll support you. So will other small business owners. Let’s get started.

What do you think?

We’ve been at this blogging thing for over six months now and, frankly, we want to know how we’re doing.  It must be the researchers in us.  Go figure.

While we may know many of you, there are many more we wish we did.  So, please take a second and let us know what you like or don’t like, what you wish we would address, or any other feedback you’d like to give us.  We’re all ears.

To leave us feedback, you can post a comment below or email us directly at david (at) coronaresearch. com.

Cutting through the clutter

As a fun experiment, I’ve kept track of all the chances I’ve recently had to complete a survey.  In the past two weeks I’m up to six (conservatively counting).  This includes a few invites from research panels, a student’s class project, a mail survey, and a customer feedback form.  This doesn’t count “fun surveys” such as online polls, website pop up surveys, and even new music surveys from a local radio station.  It seems there are surveys waiting for us everywhere we turn, and, of course, we’ve talked about some of the surveys we’ve run across in other posts (auto dealers, checkout, and airlines).

So, here is my question: how does this impact our ability to survey?  Are people becoming numb to surveys? Perhaps more importantly, how do we cut through the clutter to get noticed and to get people to participate?

Sending surveys to a larger sample and/or offering larger incentives certainly seems to be the trend, but both of these are self defeating.  The more surveys you send, the more people receive them, and the more numb they’ll become.  Offering larger incentives, only causes you to offer yet higher incentives the next time.

So what else can we do to keep people participating?  A few ideas include…

  1. Break out of the mold. Make surveys people want to do.  Create surveys that look interesting.  Write questions that are different.  And, of course, make surveys look short and simple.
  2. Make survey modes novel. People pay attention when something is new or different.  New survey modes like mobile phone research are currently receiving high cooperation rates, as is technology that allows researchers to intercept online survey takers in real time to follow up with additional questions (iModerate).  Of course, once the novelty wears off, you’re back to the drawing board.
  3. Use the human touch. Add humans back to the equation.  While some cases dictate a person not be involved to ensure honest response or even cooperation, in many cases dealing with a human can be refreshing in our technological age.  Perhaps we’ll return to more intercept surveys to gain cooperation, or more phone interviewers instead of interactive voice response technology.
  4. Show that you care. How many times have you filled out a survey, pretty sure that nothing would change as a result of your feedback?  Customers don’t just want to give feeback, they want to be listened to.  Show – don’t tell – that you value their input.
  5. Use other metrics. Maybe surveying a certain population is just too hard, or maybe you don’t feel you’re getting accurate feedback.  Luckily, there is a lot of digital communication out there, and you can monitor those conversations (through online monitoring of forums, etc) for many uses.

How many surveys do you have an opportunity to respond to in a week?  What else do you think can be done to keep people engaged?


Everything is connected (moreso than usual)

There have been lots of interesting political analyses coming out of the recent election, and since we are rabidly non-partisan at Corona we haven’t spent much time covering them (other than the all important donuts and coffee polls).

But this amazing analysis of how Obama’s victory was created by the sea level and sedimentaton pattern of the late Cretaceous Period (85 Million years ago!) just blew my mind.

It started, as most good things do, with some maps.  The sublime Strange Maps blog posted maps by biologist Allen Gathman showing a general correlation between those areas of the South that in 1860 produced cotton (black dots) and those areas of the South that voted for Obama in 2008 (blue shaded counties).

Then Christian Neal McNeil, at his blog The Vigourous North, produced a tour de force followup, linking 2008 to 85 million B.C. (seriously–go read the post.  It is splendiferous, and I’m only going to give it a quick gloss here).

In the late Cretaceous, most of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and costal Carolina were underwater (85 million B.C. is on the right, 115 million B.C. is on the left).  These shallow seas were full of marine life, which lived, and died, and drifted to the sea floor, creatiging lush soil deposits in the shallows of these transient seas.  That soil was well suited for cotton cultivation, which relied on slavery, leadign to ares of the south where African Americans outnumbered Caucasians.  And this demographic pattern has continued in many of these areas to the present day, contributing to the socio-demographic conditions that created the South’s particular vote pattern.

So in a way, the results of this election have been a looooooooooooooooong time coming.

It reminds me of a mini-episode of James Burke’s TV Show Connections, where historical facts careen against each other creating reality from the gestalt.  I always get a  rush of creative energy reading something like this!  What other amazing correlations have you come across?

Just released – “Generous Colorado: Why Donors Give”

Corona is pleased to share some recent research conducted on behalf of the Colorado Nonprofit Association. Corona has been a long time partner with the Colorado Nonprofit Association and yesterday morning marked the official release of two reports on individual giving in Colorado (Corona researched and assisted with writing the report, “Generous Colorado: Why Donors Give”).

A few interesting findings, included:

  • Nearly all Coloradans surveyed believe nonprofits play a major role in making our communities better places to live.  Furthermore, most Coloradans believe that all businesses should support charitable causes.
  • The top three reasons people select the charities they support are as follows: they believe the organization is trustworthy (98 percent), they believe the organization is well-managed and effective (96 percent), and they believe the organization supports a cause they believe in (96 percent).
  • Other than their spouse or significant other, few residents consult others when making their decisions about charitable giving. Forty-three percent consult a spouse or significant other;  another 38 percent don’t consult with anyone.
  • The typical volunteer provides upwards of 20 hours per month to their cause(s).
  • Forty-six percent said they would give less due to the current economy.
  • The most common means of contact that compels a person to donate (time or money) is being asked to do so by a person they know.

Click here for the full report.

Award winning client makes us proud

Clínica Tepeyac, a Denver-based nonprofit that provides health care and preventive health services, won the El Pomar Award of Excellence in the area of self-sufficiency last week. This award, by one of Colorado’s private foundations, recognizes nonprofits and community leaders in 11 different categories. The process is competitive and the award much sought after as a symbol of excellence.

I’ve been providing strategy consulting services to Clínica since 2001 with a focused effort since 2007 through the Rose Community Foundation’s BOOST Initiative. We’ve worked hard to complete a thorough self-assessment and a really strong strategic business plan. I’m very proud of the work we have done together. It begins with a fundamentally strong organization that focuses on meeting an important community need. Clínica is clear about its mission, core values and distinctive competence. It has a track record of solid growth exemplified by significant increases year over year in the number of patients served. Clínica has a committed group of staff, volunteers, board members, partners and funders. (To see an example of one of Corona assessments, click here (pdf).)

As David Lack, Executive Director, noted “I believe this award is an affirmation that we have an important mission and that we stay focused on it.”  The award includes $15,000 in unrestricted funding.

Keep up the great work!! I can’t wait to see what 2009 brings.

Corona’s 500th Project

With the notice of a project win today, Corona Research has just won our 500th project!  We hit that mark in (only) 490 weeks of existence.  Yes, we’re number people.

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, we would like to thank our clients, partners, contractors, and even just friends of Corona for making us so successful.

Now time to celebrate with a weekend filled with gorging ourselves on turkey, washed down by – you guessed it – a Corona.

Obama plus the Internet = A new strategy for political engagement

President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign is garnering attention for engaging millions of Americans in the political process. Not only did his campaign reach new heights in terms of the amount of money raised, and the number of people involved and connected, it has reshaped the political industry. The October 2008 Harvard Business Review includes a thought-provoking article entitled “Shaping Strategy in a World of Constant Disruption” by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison.

According to the article, “We live in an era of profound and accelerating change.”It posits that the old days – the days of technological change embodied by the steam engine and telephone – were typically periods of disruption caused by the new technology, followed by periods of stabilization.Companies and entire industries had a chance to catch up during those stabilization periods, thereby minimizing the long-term benefits gained by the early entrants.

As we know, the digital age has meant the end of stabilization as we knew it.We now live in an ongoing period of disruption driven by technology.“Today’s new digital infrastructure … gives relatively small actions and investments an impact disproportionate to their size.”As such, it allows companies to formulate “shaping strategies” to reshape industries, rather than merely adapt to them.

It occurred to me after reading the article that this is exactly what the Obama campaign did these past two years.It used a technology-fueled strategy to gain a competitive advantage, shape an industry and achieve success.His campaign has set new expectations for communication with and engagement of consumers (read “voters”).

When you look at the size of his war chest (still growing via donations to pay for the transition) there’s no doubt the investment in web-based communication and fund raising capabilities paid for themselves many times over.

This industry shaper continues to use his e-communications to keep us apprised of his plans. It’ll be interesting to see what future political campaigns look like and how his presidency employs technology long-term.

Long surveys

I heard the following conversation a few nights ago while on the bus ride home between the bus driver and a passenger regarding a survey that RTD was administering to a few riders on each bus.

“That survey was like a book.”

“It even had chapters.”

“I think they get paid by the question.”

Of course they were referring to the rather long survey that the rider had just taken.  Granted, she was on a regional bus and was a relatively captive audience (I have no idea how they’re doing this on city buses), but she still appeared put off by the long survey.

Surveys do appear to be getting longer.   While there are many reasons for this, such as a greater need by businesses and organizations to get more information to base decisions on, and conducting complex analyses which need more data points, one key reason, in my opinion, is the expense of gaining cooperation.

Getting an individual to participate is one of the most costly parts of survey research.  As participation has fallen for most modes, researchers have had to make more phone calls for telephone surveys, mail more letters for mail surveys, and send more invites for online surveys.  As the number of contacts have increased – and often the incentives, too – so have the overall cost.  So, since it costs the most to get someone to participate, once you have them – I believe the thinking goes – you might as well ask more questions to get your money’s worth.

And therein lies the problem in my opinion.  Longer surveys turn people off (though in some instances a participant whom is highly interested in the topic may not mind) so next time they’re invited to participate, they’re less likely to do so.  Gaining participation is then harder, driving costs up further.  The process repeats.

While it is difficult – for both clients and us researchers – to limit the amount of questions we want to ask, we must appreciate a respondent’s time, even when they’re a captive audience.

Importance of market research in an economic downturn

The economy is on a downturn and, with businesses bracing for the effects, you’ve probably been hearing plenty of strategies for how to thrive during this tough period.  And the foundation for any good strategy is good information.

Market research is just as important, if not more important, during a tough economy.  When times are good there is plenty of room in the budget to try several strategies at once, but with tightening budgets (and availability of credit), businesses and organizations have to get things right the first time.  Moreover, this is an opportunity for companies and organizations to position themselves for the eventual rebound.

Market research helps keep you informed off your markets so changes can be made quickly and the best strategies are pursued.  Specifically, market research can help you:

  • Identify changing needs and perceptions (what are your customers top needs in this economy?)
  • Identify your best customers (and just as importantly, who isn’t your customer)
  • Provide the best value to your customers (what services can you provide or bundle to give added value?)
  • Differentiate against your competitors (what are your competitors doing? how can you zag when they zig?)
  • Create messaging and identify selling points that will resonate with your audiences (once you know the above points, what is the best way to communicate your message?)
  • Measure marketing effectiveness (what campaigns are actually producing business?)
  • Reduce risk in rolling out new advertising and new products (what do your ads really communicate?  what tradeoffs are people willing to make with products in a category?)
In fact, as you may have been thinking, this list applies in good times too.  The need is just stronger now.

To give you an actual example of how market research has benefited our clients, Corona recently created a brief summary of a past project (with the client’s approval).  To see the full Sashco, Inc case study, please click here.

Even the bad companies can survive when the economy is strong, but only the great companies survive when the economy is faltering.  While we cannot control the economy, we can certainly control the future of our businesses.

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