Ready. Set. RESEARCH: The road towards finding THAT (almost) perfect Research Question

Ready. Set. RESEARCH:  The road towards finding THAT (almost) perfect Research Question

After a lot of thought, a few long nights in front of the computer, many cups of coffee accompanied by a bit of soul-searching in deciding where it is that my interest lies, I found the trace of an answer to my quest right under my nose.  Growing up in an environment where the disabled (the visually impaired) has always been a part of your everyday life, you kind of develop a special understanding and extraordinary compassion for the handicapped…The compassion felt towards the latter has never been born out of pity or a sense of shame, but rather as a result of a great deal of respect, empathy, benevolence…but the greatest of these being- admiration.   I remember being confronted with blindness and making peace with the role it would play in my life since, well, for as long as my memory allows me to recall it.  For example, the mere fact that my mother had to miss my first birthday party due to some or other crises at work with a blind student at the Institute, serves as one of the earliest memories I possess of the impact the latter would have on my life (at that stage being 2 years long).  My mother, the closest thing to an Angel that has ever walked this earth and who has been changing the lives of, not only the visually impaired, but every person who is privileged enough to cross paths with her, has been an employee as a career developer at the Institute for the Blind for over 20 years.   In Primary school, when the mothers of other children my age where deciding on what to wear to Tuesday’s book club, my mom was probably taking a 30 year-old blind Nigerian student to dip his toes in the ocean for the first time in his life, or busy pleading to some company’s HR manager to employ one of her disabled students – consequently changing their lives forever.  These were the stories I was fortunate enough to be confronted with on a daily basis, slowly but surely not only becoming used to, but growing into a certain understanding of what the pitch dark world of the blind looked like. 

With this special interest in and fondness for the Institute for the Blind (a Non-profit organization which is totally dependant on the generosity and good-heartedness of the community) I stumbled across the idea of making the Non-profit sector the basis and core of my research, and with this study ultimately exploring the complex world of this sector.  With my background in marketing, and with a profound liking in the area of Branding, my first inkling was to do my research on a combination of these two areas, with a specific focus on the Institute for the Blind as a worthy NGO.   And this is where the idea was born. 

The following serves as first research proposal for my study, with the title being the following-

From Charity Organization to Charity Brand:  Exploratory research into the importance of Brand Orientation in the Charity Sector with a specific focus on the Institute for the Blind in Worcester


Over the last 50 years, the commercial sector has developed and built brands as a means of differentiation in an increasingly competitive environment. The charity sector, on the other hand, is becoming similarly competitive as consumers demand transparency and clear information about the added value of the charities.  Kooiman (2010) argues that, in recent years, “there has been a tremendous growth in the charity sector. This growth is reflected in a huge increase in number and in competition, but also within the charities themselves, through developments in their brand thinking.” Some charity organisations are turning to charity brand status, not only in terms of a name, slogan and logo, but more importantly in terms of communicating value and meaning to their stakeholders and donors. Charity organizations are increasingly realizing that they should professionalize their conduct in order to continue their existence. According to Hankinson (2001:207), research suggests that in the mid-nineties charities were “under-using one of their most powerful assests: their brands” and that they needed to clarify their branding to stakeholders as well as the public.  Hankinson continues to argue that consumer research suggests a need for strong brands to facilitate the donor choice process.

The term ‘brand orientation’ in the charity sector that will be focussed upon in this study refers to the extent to which charity organisations, such as The Institute for the Blind, regard themselves as “brands”. The Institute for the Blind is a non-profit organization which is over 130 years old. Their mission is “To empower persons who are blind, partially sighted or deafblind, including visually impaired persons with additional disabilities by means of education, training, development and care towards a fulfilled life and complete citizenship” (Institute for the Blind, 2011).  The question this study aims to answer is whether non-profit organisations such as the above mentioned, accept the theory, practice and effective implementation of branding, and whether or not they regard it as strategically important to endorse the conversion from charity organization to strong charity brand. An organization that centers around the brand in this way can be described as brand oriented. “This organization recognizes the value of the brand and takes the brand as starting point in all its actions, ranging from communication with all stakeholders to distributing the responsibilities concerning the brand” (Kooiman, 2010).  Research needs to be done to determine the set dimensions which influence the donor choice process between competing charities in the charity sector and the role an effective brand-orientated approach plays in this process. A non-profit organization such as The Institute for the Blind is well defined in terms of their target market or target donor segment, but the question this study aims to address is whether marketing managers understand donor’s expectations of a strong charity brand and the influence the lack thereof has on their donating behaviour. The following research proposal serves as a blueprint of the research being conducted in this study.


The purpose when undertaking this study is to conceptualise and explore, through qualitative research, the importance and impact (if any) of a brand-orientated approach in a non-profit organization such as The Institute for the Blind on donor behavior. Furthermore the effect of the existence or non-existence of a brand- orientated approach by the latter on the donor choice process will be evaluated.


The overall objective is to explore the increasing importance of a brand-orientated approach by charity organizations, and what the impact of brand-orientation is on donor numbers. This overall objective can be broken down into three main objectives. The primary objective is to determine the level of brand orientation implemented by The Institute for the Blind. The secondary objective is to verify whether or not donors are influenced by the strength and efficiency of a charity’s brand identity. The tertiary objective is to identify whether the Institute for the Blind is making the best use of their current ‘brand’.


Due to the subjectivity and qualitative nature of this study, the following proposition can be drawn: The use of a brand-orientated approach by non-profit organizations has an effect on donor behaviour and consequently influences the donor choice process. The dependant variable in this study is donor behaviour while the independent variables can be said to be factors such as donor’s age, financial resources, religion, race, culture, access to information concerning charities, time constraints, as well as the position or power of the charity’s ‘brand’ in the mind of the donor.


 Exploratory research can be described as being “open-ended in nature, helps you define a specific problem, and usually involves detailed, unstructured interviews in which lengthy answers are solicited from a small group of respondents” (Researching Your Market, 2011). The specific research method that is conducted in this study is of an exploratory nature. Exploratory research is not intended to provide conclusive evidence, and further research needs to be done to determine a particular course of action (Zikmund and Babin, 2008). Exploratory research is used to gain new insights and understanding regarding non-profit organizations using a brand-orientated marketing approach and its effect on donor behaviour.

5.1 Secondary research

Published books and journals, such as the Marketing Research Reader, the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Journal of Business Research International Journal of Management Reviews, International Journal of Voluntary and Non-profit Organizations, Journal of Voluntary Action Research, will be consulted to gather additional information.  Professionals and experts working in the charity sector (specifically managers and selected employees of The Institute for the Blind) will be consulted for further knowledge of the industry and the organization itself. The University of Cape Town Library database will be used to further gather additional secondary research material. Furthermore, internet sources will also be consulted as a tool to gain information and insights regarding the subject.

5.2 Primary research

As defined by Zigmund and Babin (2008) primary research is regarded as research that does not make use of numerical measures, but focuses on discovering true inner meanings and insights. The primary research that will be undertaken in this study is of a qualitative nature. Qualitative marketing research is subjective in nature, and “it leaves much of the measurement process to the discretion of the researcher.” (Zikmund 2003:132) According to Zikmund (2003: 63), primary data are gathered and assembled specifically for the project at hand.

5.2.1 Research method

The research method that will be utilised in this study is focus-group and in-depth interviews. According to Deacon et al (1999: 55), “focus-group research is becoming an ever more popular qualitative research method within communication and cultural studies…(and) one of the most popular means for analysing media audiences.” This research technique is appropriate because it is relatively easy to execute, relatively fast, provides multiple perspectives, produces rich qualitative material suited for interpretation, is a flexible method and it has a high degree of security. The interviews will contribute to the existing knowledge of the charity industry as a whole as well as the donating experience; and more importantly new insights will be born. As a result of these new insights the objectives of this study will be realised.

5.2.2 Sampling technique

For the purpose of this study, non- probability sampling will be used. The latter sample selection is based on the personal judgement of the researcher or convenience of the sample selection. Thus, the probability of a member in the population being selected for the purpose of this study is unknown. In this specific study judgement sampling will be mainly used where the researcher will purposively select the sample units. Experts in the charity marketing field will be consulted to assist with the judgement selection of the respondents. Due to the nature of this study a sampling frame is not used.

5.2.3 Sample size

A focus group session will be held with a total of ten to twelve respondents in the group selection. A focus group interview can be described as an unstructured, freeflowing interview with a small group of people (Zikmund, 2003:117). The reason for selecting a focus group in this study is also supported by Zikmund (2003: 117) for “the focus group interview has become so popular that many research agencies consider it to be the ‘only’ exploratory research tool.  A focus group can also be said to be best managed when there are no more than ten respondents, for “Qualitative research tends to use comparatively small samples which are generated more informally…”(Deacon et al, 1999:43).

5.3 Fieldwork

The focus group will be held in Worcester and will be of an informal and relaxed nature. A convenient location, most probably at the head-quarters of The Institute for the Blind, will be provided where the focus group session will be held. During the interviews the interviewer will lead the interview and make use of specific pre-determined questions to gather information. A tape recorder will also be used for the duration of the interviews for thorough interpretation later on. After the interview the interviewer will ask the respondents to rate a few factors of charity brand-orientation on a most to least importance scale. This rating will not be used as a formal means of measure, but rather to enhance and address the objectives of the research.

5.4 Data analysis

After the focus groups have been conducted the data will be interpreted and analysed by the researcher, and conclusions will ultimately be drawn from the information obtained. The findings will be used as building blocks for concluding arguments concerning the proposition made.


Hankinson, P. 2001. Brand orientation in charity organizations: Qualitative research into key charity sectors. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntaiy Sector Marketing, 5(3): 207-219.

Zikmund, W.G. 2003. Business Research Methods. South-Western: Thomson.

Kooiman, N. 2010. The succes of ideals [Online]. Available: [201 1, August 14].

The Institute for the Blind. 2011. [Online]. Available: [2011, August 131.

Researching Your Market. 2011. [Online]. Available:

http://www.entrepreneur.comlmarketing/marketingbasicslmarketingplanlarticle43O24. ht ml [2011, August 14].

Zikmund, W.G. & Babin, B.J. 2008. Exploring Marketing Research. Louisiana: SouthWestern Cengage Learning.

Deacon, D.; Pickering, M.; Golding, P. & Murdock,G. Researching Communications: a Practical Guide to Methods in Media and Cultural Analysis. London: Arnold.


About kieks

Who am I...? well, firstly, at 22 it's still not so easy to answer this supposedly simple question. I'm a different person today than I was a year, or even 6 months ago. Maybe tomorrow I fall in love, meet a new friend, be part of a miracle, experience a tradegy or listen to an inspirational song and see things differently than I do today... But at this moment in time, in a nutshell I would say that I'm completely content. What can you say about yourself that would make you more special, or any different than the person sitting next to you, except for your height, hair colour and shoe size..what makes ME different? extraordinary? unusual? exceptional? The answer lies deep, deep down to the furthest and yet unreached bottom of my soul - a place still waiting to be fully discovered, explored and exploited... the quest to find that piece of extraodinariness is a long and tough yourney of its own, for some (better) days the answer floats up to the surface and glows for a while in the life's sunlight...other days that same glistering confidence of yesterday seems to sink away to a place where it's light is almost impossible to see...About myself? Who am I? I am the girl who, inspite of stormy seas, believes that, by letting your extraordinariness float on the surface you see the light reflect on the faces of those who look at you...

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