How Market Research Can Drive Strategic Planning

Presenter“Increasingly, alumni affairs and development operations are turning to metrics to help define their strategic plans and, moreimportantly, measure their effectiveness. Discuss a conceptual framework for creating a strategic planning process that is measurable, sustainable, and driven by market research.

Main point: Branding is your unique story. The way to identify that story is do conduct effective research.

Market research is key

  • Why is knowing what your alumni think is important?
  • How do you get this data?
  • What do y ou do with the data once you have it.

Communications goals

  • Build awareness.
  • Change behavior.
  • Streangthen relationships.

Using the data

  • Measure effectiveness.
  • Gauge resource productivity.
  • Target segments with programs.

Populating your databases

Alumni engagement indices

  • Stanford: the relationship model
  • Harvard: Engagement indices

Give every engagement with every audience member a point. (Use separate indices for alumni and donors.)

  • Disengaged 0-9 points.
  • Passive 10-24 points.
  • Active 25-100 points.
  • Very active 100+ points.

Resource allocation > lifetime engagement index > lifetime giving value.

Ladder of engagement

  • Which programs move alums up the ladder at each level?
  • Which programs are most productive for which segments?
  • What is the best portfolio of programs to maximize engagement?

Apply engagement criteria to each program.

  • Class notes.
  • Reunions.
  • Clubs.
  • Travel study.
  • Speaker programs.
  • Web.
  • Magazine.
  • Special interest (affinity) groups — more active/engaging than geographic clubs.


  • Capture all engagement points.
  • Build lifetime profile.
  • Capture self-identified interests.
  • Personalize all messaging.
  • Record all contacts online and off.
  • Create engagement indices.
  • Peer to peer.
  • Add value to the alumnus/alumna.

Alumni profile

Channels of alumni communication are sources of information

  • Classmates on giving committees.
  • Volunteers on numerous other committees.
  • Class notes.
  • Class reports.
  • Phonathon calls (both students and volunteers).
  • Surveys.
  • Club associations.
  • Other involvement.

Capture all the information you can use

  • Professional information: marital and family information.
  • Affiliations, interests, personal experiences.
  • Salutations, nick names, alternate addresses.
  • Communication preferences, volunteer activities.
  • Participation/engagement levels; dination history.
  • REasons for giving/not giving.
  • Letters, e-mails, publications, surveys received, responses.


How informed are you about Harvard today?

  • 1994: 28%
  • 2001: 58%

Olson Zaltman (ZMET) Interview

  • 90% of decision-making is done unconsciously.
  • People think in images and stories and metaphors.
  • Metaphors are e motion, deep, hard-wired into us as humans, universal to a culture.
  • You use these metaphors to frame things.

So, ZMET is a one-on-one discussion approximately two hours long conducted with a small number of people.
In this case, Harvard used 30-40 people at various levels of giving. One question, such as for large donors, “why do you give money to Harvard?”

  • In preparation, participants collect visual images that represent their thoughts and feelings about the research topic.
  • Some participants imagined pictures that were later found by a digital imager.

Implementing the technique

Primary question

  • “Please find six pictures that represent your thoughts and feelings about Harvard University and the role it plays in your life today.” Need not be literal. Should be metaphorical.

Describe missing images

  • “Were there any thoughts or feelings for which you were unable to find a visual image?”

Explore the metaphorical meaning by changing the frame

  • “If you could change the frame of this picture, what might enter the picture that would help me understand even better your thoughts and feelings about making major contributions to Harvard?”

Vignette: create a story about the research topic

  • “I would like you to use your imagination to create a short story. Please include at least these three characters: (1) you, (2) a character who represents Harvard, and (3) a character who represents an ideas nonprofit to which you would contribute”

Each participant creates a summary digital image with the assistance of a skilled ZMET-trained, compute graphics artist who serves as his/her hands


The results are provided to the psychiatry department, and a metaphor is drafted.

  • “Harvard is a ‘starting point’ for the hero’s journey. A Harvard education helps one go far along the path of life.

A complete consensus map is developed, with concepts and connections.
Deep metaphors

  • Connection
    • Positive value — connecting to other alumni, one’s own past, deeply held values, university’s history
    • Negative value — disconnection — what aspects tend to pull people apart, create divisions, or just fail to bring people together?
  • Transformation
    • Positive value — others lives, institutions, the world, themselves
    • Negative value — Lack of transformation — In what ways does participation with your college fail to meet the need to transform? In what ways does participation cause or signify transformation?
  • Control — over how donations are applied, an elite network, bettering the world

Harvard Communications Survey

Prepared by Opinion Dynamics

  • 22,798 invitations.
  • Current response rate (May 17) is 32%.
  • Self-selected responses.
  • Aske similar questions to two previous surveys.
  • Plase rate your feelings toward your school?
  • Plase rate your feelings toward the university?
  • My experience at Harvard has affected my:
    • Personal life.
    • Professional life.
  • How well informed do you feel about the University?
  • How many communictions do you receive from Harvard?
  • How much of the communication that you receive from Harvard do you read?