“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”
“You can observe a lot by just watching.”
Yogi Berra makes an excellent case for conducting market research. Your institution, your alumni, and your other important constituencies will benefit if programs and strategy are informed not only by anecdote, speculation, rumor, and the venerable WAG (Wild-Ass Guess) methodology, but also by reliable and valid data.
We conduct quantitative research (surveys), qualitative research (focus groups), and observational research (usability testing for online resources and services) with alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, and other key constituencies.
WHAT MOST DISTINGUISHES eAdvancement’s research is the quality – of our research design, our data analysis, and our reporting.
To begin with, every study we do is custom written – nothing is standardized or off-the-shelf. We start by working with you to fully understand what you need to learn so together we can clearly define the objectives of the research. Without clear objectives you can’t get useful results. We then write the research instruments to achieve your objectives and learn what you need to know, which can not be done with standardized surveys that are too generic to be of practical value even if they add a few specific questions for you.
Furthermore, by focusing on measures that are actionable rather than merely descriptive, our research is designed to provide you with data that can inform decisions and strategy. We have conducted surveys, focus groups, and usability tests for scores of universities and colleges in the US, Canada, and around the world, and have explored every facet of institutional advancement including:
- Alumni relations
- Fundraising messaging and strategy
- Magazine readership, digital technologies, and other communications issues
- Online services and social media
- Parents programs
- Post-event surveys
- Community relations
THE BREADTH AND DEPTH of our experience means we know what questions to ask and how to ask them. We take special pride in writing surveys that avoid two serious errors that are all too common in survey research:
- Asking batteries of meaningless questions or questions about things outside your purview that you can’t do anything about anyway – which distract respondents from giving sufficient thought to the questions that really matter to you, and cause some to abandon the survey altogether. This in turn can compromise both the validity of the data and the representativeness of the alumni you wind up hearing from. And beyond the damage that’s done, you are then buried in data that is not only irrelevant but obscures the important findings.
- Including badly written questions that do not measure the concepts they intend to measure, can not be answered accurately, or mean different things to different people – all of which produce muddy data that is flawed and unreliable at best…and misleading at worst.
AS WITH THE SURVEY DESIGN, our data analysis is also customized rather than standardized:
- While we know what correlations to look for in the data that will provide you with deep and actionable insight, we also look for anything unusual or unique in your data that might suggest a new line of thought or analysis.
- Our analysis provides extra strategic guidance by mapping your results to your programming, thus identifying where resources might best be allocated – the programs to sustain, the programs to improve, and the programs to scale back.
- We analyze the data not only by standard demographic variables such as age and gender, but also by variables that are unique to your institution (such as school, alumni chapter or region, and anything that may be of particular or topical interest to you). You don’t pay extra for extra analysis. Comprehensive and thorough analysis is fundamental to what we do.
- Even though the sample will be random, participation in the survey can differ demographically. Donors, for instance, are almost always more likely than non-donors to participate. Therefore, we weight the data to be representative of your alumni population by all demographic variables. Moreover, to ensure that the results are representative of the entire alumni body – and not just those with email addresses – we weight the data to be proportional to your total living alumni population.
LIKE THE DESIGN of the survey and the analysis of the data, our report is custom written for you. And it will not be a collection of tables or a dense mass of figures you need to plow through and decipher on your own. Rather, it will be a narrative that interprets and explains the results, with graphs that illustrate the findings instead of obscuring them. And, for added context on key measures, the report will compare your results with the results from the many other institutions for whom we’ve done surveys (or a sub-set of your own choosing).
The high quality of our research is due, in part, to the decades of experience the eAdvancement principals have as chief executives of some of the most successful alumni relations and development programs in the world. It is also due to the experience and knowledge of our survey specialist, Jerold Pearson, who — after beginning his career in political polling, customer satisfaction, and new product development research – has focused for the past 20 years almost exclusively on research with alumni, students, parents, supporters and other important constituencies in the world of education. In addition to being an eAdvancement principal, Jerold is the Director of Market Research at Stanford University, where he has been since 1994 — first in the Office of Development and now in the Stanford Alumni Association. Jerold’s entire approach to survey design, analysis, and reporting is strategic in nature, and geared towards providing you with data and insight you can actually use to make more informed decisions and develop more successful programs.