Qualitative research fuels wishful thinking

Want to go astray and make really serious tactical errors? Do a study on people’s attitudes. Use surveys and focus groups. Follow what you learn from qualitative research.

Like a recent study reported on by The Communications Network: Some Good News About Telling Good News.

This study found that people were more persuaded to act on children’s issues by positive communications than negative.

That led the study to a number of recommendations, including these:


  • Don’t dwell on problems.
  • Tell stories that describe solutions.
  • Help people see the “big picture.”

If you’ve been paying attention to fundraising results for more than a few minutes, you’ll know that these recommendations directly contradict what works in the real world. If you want to raise funds, you’re going to have to dwell on the problems you’re asking your donors to help solve. You’re going to have tell stories about unresolved problems. And the bigger the picture you display, the lower your results will be.

That’s not what a study says. It’s what actual response data show us.

I realize that the subject of this research is not fundraising, but issue advocacy, a topic I’m not expert in. It may be that these are not as thunderingly wrong for advocacy as they are for fundraising. But this and similar research is frequently misapplied to fundraising. Because it supports what many people in nonprofits wish were the case.

Trouble is, it’s not.

If you want to find out for yourself whether your donors will respond to good news better than bad, test it in a clean, well-designed direct-response venue. That will show you what people really do — not what they would hypothetically do.

Download the executive summary (PDF) or get the complete report (PDF; registration required).


Comments

2 responses to “Qualitative research fuels wishful thinking”

  1. It also directly contradicts what people know from politics. In focus groups, people will say they hate negative campaigning. But time after time, the evidence shows that’s what they respond to.
    People do not accurately report in focus groups how they’ll behave in the real world. Fortunately, in fundraising it’s easy to see that.
    In a lot of public advocacy, though, the evidence isn’t always as easy to collect.

  2. It also directly contradicts what people know from politics. In focus groups, people will say they hate negative campaigning. But time after time, the evidence shows that’s what they respond to.
    People do not accurately report in focus groups how they’ll behave in the real world. Fortunately, in fundraising it’s easy to see that.
    In a lot of public advocacy, though, the evidence isn’t always as easy to collect.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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