I’ve always loved research. It lies at the very heart of Bluefrog.

We channel a large part of our tiny profits into filling knowledge gaps in the charity sector by undertaking research that gives insight and guidance on tackling some of the biggest problems that fundraisers face.

You can find all the papers for download on the main bluefrog site or over on the left hand column.

Travel a little further down to the categories section and click on the research tag. You’ll find a good selection of posts featuring studies that will hopefully spark a few ideas about ways to improve your own fundraising programme.

But I think research has its limits. And one area where I seriously question its use is in pre-testing creative ideas.

What can be engaging and responsive in a donor’s hand can be described as dull and old-fashioned in a research environment.  Work that is innovative and direct can be seen as aggressive and pushy.

The result is very often an average selection of average ideas that get average results.

In this type of situation, rather than taking comments at face value and rejecting ideas, research should be used to explore a donor’s relationship with the overall creative idea, highlighting potential and helping assess where an approach can go next.

Steve Henry recently wrote about his views on the impact of pre-testing research. He featured a quote from Mark Fenske, a US creative, that made me smile.

“The decision to run one ad rather than another is made by 15 people who don’t work for the client or the agency but were found wandering about in a shopping mall one afternoon and who, when approached by people with clipboards, did not possess even enough sense to walk the other way but instead were persuaded in less than a minute to follow an unknown person down a hallway into a dark room after being promised a bowl of M&Ms and maybe enough money to buy a tank of gas.

They will not be aware they are making a decision, will not know which of their remarks made the decision & which not, but their unconsidered & unconnected sayings, pauses, burps and look-abouts will be collected into a voice more powerful than the weight of the agency’s argument or the common sense of anyone involved.”

It’s not necessarily a reason to stop pre-testing ideas, but it’s a very good reason to do it properly.