Research shows that needs and attitudes are more important than demographics or behaviors in determining how people engage in social issues.
Many nonprofit organizations across the United States count on the engagement and involvement of the public to help them achieve their objectives. In soliciting the public’s support, most nonprofits rely on a single communications and advocacy approach, casting as wide a net as they can and trying to win “everyone” to their cause. This one-size-fits-all approach may seem simple to execute, but it is not always effective—it often results in wasted marketing dollars, missed opportunities, and poor alignment between what an organization needs and the kinds of support it gets.
In the commercial world, leading companies use a technique called “needs-based segmentation” to help generate insights into the needs, motivations, and attitudes of consumers. This allows them to classify people into distinct segments and tailor marketing and communications strategies to the needs and preferences of specific audiences. Needs-based segmentation would seem equally applicable and valuable in the nonprofit arena, but it has not been widely adopted by nonprofits either because of lack of awareness or limited resources.
In this paper, we share a needs-based segmentation that nonprofits can use to develop targeted communications and advocacy approaches. The segmentation is one outcome of a yearlong research effort focused on US adults who supported at least one of a dozen or so major social issues through more than just a monetary donation. The research validated our hypothesis that needs and attitudes (for example, how much an individual agrees with the statements “I need to see tangible results” and “I can’t do much to solve big issues”) are significant differentiators—more so than demographics or behaviors—for how individuals engage in social issues. These insights into supporters’ needs can help nonprofit and advocacy organizations take their outreach to the next level, by better prioritizing their target audiences and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of their advocacy efforts.
Download the full report on which this article is based, Activists, pundits, and quiet followers: Engaging the public in social issues (PDF–652KB). Also download a related infographic, Building support for your cause (PDF–300KB).