Nonprofit marketers: have you put on your listening ears lately?

The dizzying array of platforms and tools to help you create, share, and promote your content—and the concomitant pressure to keep producing at ever-more-frequent intervals—makes it easy to overlook the flip side: listening.


But good marketing starts with (and is always guided by) data, and that requires putting aside what you want to say and really examining what others are telling you. Only then can you use those insights to drive effective marketing content and offers.


6 questions to check your insight level

1. Who are your supporters?

Be specific. “The automotive industry” or “mainly people over 65” is not enough detail to guide effective outreach efforts.

It may help to create personas to represent important attributes of your supporters. For instance, perhaps one of your personas is “Karen,” a VP at a mid-size manufacturing plant in North Carolina, who has two children in high school and likes to hike on the weekend.

Once you have that level of detail, you can create content and programs that appeal to Karen and all of the existing supporters she represents. You can learn more about building personas in this Hubspot blog post (where they are referred to as "buyer personas") and which includes a downloadable persona template.

2. What are the three biggest reasons they support you?

Do you know the issues that are top of mind for them and the reasons why they choose your organization over another?


3. Have these reasons changed over the past several years? Are you sure?

Given the rapid pace of change, it’s important to routinely monitor your supporters and track how their concerns, perspectives, and behaviors are changing. The GOP is a perfect example of the dangers of getting complacent: look at how unprepared they were for the rise of Donald Trump. They hadn’t paid attention to the growing outrage and dissatisfaction of its supporters.


4. Is your messaging in sync with how your supporters describe your issues? 

While this is literally an issue of semantics, it’s still important. If you are using one set of jargon to describe your issues, while your supporters use another, it will affect your SEO, audience identification, and clarity of communication.

5. What are your five most popular pieces of content? 

What are people reacting to? What has seen the most positive (or passionate) responses? Keeping an eye on your metrics—such as likes, shares, and comments—can help you double down on your most successful material while cutting out time-wasters.


6. When people stop supporting your organization, do you know why? 

This is the most difficult intel to obtain, but incredibly important. What is turning past supporters away from you? Why are they choosing to go elsewhere? If you don’t know, you can’t address the problem.


If you had some trouble answering these questions, no worries. There are a number of ways you can step up your listening game.



5 ways to improve your listening chops

1. Social listening

Setting up a digital “listening station” is easy. Compile a list of keywords, organization names (yours, allies, and competitors), and relevant hashtags. Then use the monitoring tools of your choice (Google Alerts, Talkwalker Alerts, Hootsuite, Social Mention, etc.) to track what’s being said in these arenas. This is a fantastic way to not only learn more about the conversations that are already occurring but also to learn more about how people are talking about your issues, to identify flawed statements that need correcting, and to discover new audiences.

2. Regular surveys

With the plethora of free survey tools out there (SurveyMonkeyTypeformGoogle Forms, etc.), it’s the work of minutes to create a vehicle for learning more about your supporters and what they think of your organization.

You can also kick it old-school and pick up the phone to chat with current supporters and prospects, or grab a couple of minutes during a conference to check their pulse.

Regardless of the medium, I recommend offering some benefit for completing the survey. Their time is valuable, and their insights are worth a lot of money to your organization. It’s also fascinating how a $10 Starbucks gift card can motivate people to respond!


3. Metrics

Yes, I’m going to talk about analytics again. Because there is a treasure trove of information about your supporters that’s being generated every day. And since these metrics reflect what your supporters are actually doing (as opposed to what they might tell you they’re doing), it’s especially valuable. So crack open your Google Analytics and social media metrics and look at what content is the most popular, what comments you’re receiving, and who your most passionate supporters are.

4. Feedback forms 

Don’t overlook the humble feedback form. It’s a great way to make sure you’re hearing from your more tech-avoidant supporters. And since you can often catch people while they’re waiting (for a presentation to start, an intermission to end, etc.), it’s an easy way to get a relatively high response rate.


5. Run a “front line focus group” 

Gather the staff of all departments and seniority levels (especially the younger ones) that interact with your supporters frequently. This could include your marketing assistants, meeting planners, receptionists … the people who are emailing, calling, and on social media with your supporters every day. Each of them probably has some great insights, but when they’re pooled together you can get a sense of common themes and trends. And since you can probably get this intel for the price of sandwiches and sodas, why not?

These suggestions are only a fraction of the listening opportunities out there. What are you doing to find out where your supporters’ heads are at?