Market research firms like Drive Research rely on data to make actionable decisions. But, ultimately, market research is all about listening, emphasizes Owner & President George Kuhn. “Our success is driven by our clients’ success. A lot of the research we do is built into our clients’ strategies to help them grow their businesses,” George explains.
“Prior to establishing Drive Research in 2016, I always thought market research was a nice win-win,” he admits. “Our research would help our clients’ business grow, and they hired us for the research, which would help our firm grow too. But I always thought another win was missing in that equation.”
When he launched Drive Research, George knew it was imperative to build in a giving element from the start.
The company’s formal way of giving is through its Give Back Program. A percentage of profits from projects conducted by Drive Research go back to a community organization or organization in need. Every quarter, the company sends satisfaction surveys to its clients asking for performance feedback. Participating in the survey also gives clients the opportunity to either select an organization in need they want a percentage of their project cost donated to or allow Drive Research to make the donation choice.
“Each donation is based on the size of the project and the amount of profit we make on each project,” explains George. “Our project size and margins vary from project to project so the donation varies from project to project. In the end, it accounts to about 2% of our total profits for an organization.”
The client satisfaction survey approach was a good solution for Drive Research. “It becomes almost an acknowledgement for giving us feedback,” explains George. “The client knows that not only has the work they’ve done with us resulted in many benefits for their own organization, but they can either donate back to an organization they have a personal connection with or know a donation to a charitable organization is being made on their behalf.”
He adds, “It goes back to the win-win-win concept. It’s a great way to help with community organizations in need and nonprofits our staff is passionate about. It’s the other win that was missing in our work.”
The Give Back Program has enabled Drive Research to make meaningful, impactful connections within the community and nonprofit organizations, such as these three examples:
Trigeminal Neuralgia Association—Supporting Through A Personal Connection
Giving back to the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association was personal for George, whose mother has spent the past 20 years suffering with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that affects the nerve connecting the face to the brain. She underwent surgery to help with it about a decade ago.
“When Drive Research launched in 2016, after the first project we completed I decided to donate profits back to the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association to help families in situations where they couldn’t afford that type of surgery to take care of the condition,” George recalls. “That donation hit home with me personally. It was the first donation we ever made as part of our Give Back Program.”
Mended Hearts—Connecting To Clients On A Deeper Level
Giving back to Mended Hearts had an unexpected and gratifying outcome for Drive Research. As George explains, “We had done an online survey for a client who worked with airports across the country. They had contracted with us and we did research to help them with their marketing strategy. They were happy with the results and had no idea we did the Give Back Program.”
Drive Research sent the client satisfaction survey out and the client chose to donate to Mended Hearts. Drive sent out a check—and it was returned. George emailed his contact to ask if she knew of another address.
He received the correct, updated address and, through a touching email conversation, George developed a deeper connection with the client, learning that her son was born with a heart condition and needed surgery at a very young age. Mended Hearts had helped to take care of her family through that difficult time. “Having just had a child, I was able to empathize,” says. “The conversation opened the door for us to have a heartfelt conversation—and all because of a returned check.”
United Way—Creating A Larger Impact Over Time
In 2019, Drive Research decided to pool all the money from client surveys opting for Drive Research to choose an organization to donate to.
“It was a significant amount—close to $2,000,” George proudly says. Not only that, Drive Research made the donation through the United Way’s Facebook platform on Giving Tuesday, so the donation was matched by Facebook.
Drive Research is deeply committed to giving back to the community and does so in several different ways. The company is often approached to do research in kind for non-profit organizations such as The United Way. Drive Research employees also volunteer time with activities like the Syracuse Christmas Bureau, which helps local families in need choose gifts, books, and food items during the holiday season, and the Pump It Forward Friday campaign, an annual fundraiser where United Way of CNY volunteers pump gas and clean customers’ windshields.
“There are plenty of great opportunities for us to get out of the office, strengthen relationships within our team, and interact with and help our community,” says Drive Research Marketing Coordinator Emily Carroll. “Like George said, it’s multitude of ways to win-win-win-win-win.”
Research Analyst Tim Gell agrees. “Community involvement is a win-win scenario for an employee like me. Volunteering my time helps support the people and businesses that benefit from the same local economy I do,” he says. “By participating in speaking engagements, for example, I simultaneously grow my communication skills for client projects and help an organization in need. At the very least, contributing to your community is also a good way to give your brand some positive PR.”
Community involvement is one of the draws to working at Drive Research, as Emily can confirm.
“Some of our team members were born and raised in Syracuse, others grew up elsewhere, but now live here. No matter the background, Syracuse obviously means something to everyone. It’s where we call home,” she points out. “And, it’s important that we’re having a role in making it a better place to live, a better place to work, and a better a place to grow. Having a small part in contributing to our community feels like you’re making a difference.”
The community giving extends to other businesses, too. “It speaks to our team culture in general. We try to never say no and help whenever we can,” Emily explains. “For example, if a potential client asks for our help and it’s not necessarily a service we provide, George doesn’t just decline. He does his own research and offers some recommendations for other services or other companies that can help.”
George agrees that in giving back Drive Research feels a connection to the community—and each other. “There’s definitely a sense of belonging,” he says. “I’ve been at networking events where I’ve looked around the room and realized we’d given back, in some way, to many of the organizations in the room.”
He continues, “It’s a good feeling. As a small, but growing business you can get caught up in the day-to-day. Some of the efforts we do in the community outside of strictly research enable us to take a step back and understand the impact we’ve had on the community that wouldn’t have been there if Drive Research didn’t exist. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to our team.”
Since Drive Research became a seedership client, George acknowledges the benefit of adding a community component. “Both our business and our client’s business grow, which is a win-win. And, as part of that growth, we give back to organizations in need in our community. So, we consider it a win-win-win.”
Working with seedership to showcase the company’s social impact has been “eye-opening,” admits Emily. “It’s really beneficial to have everything in one place. We had used social media individually and as a company to post about the different things we were doing, like volunteering with the United Way or speaking engagements at Syracuse University, but eventually that gets lost with everything else you’re posting. So, it’s helpful to share our efforts on one concise, well-designed platform,” she says.
“It’s a nice way to market and build awareness around all that we do,” agrees George. “As an organization, you get caught up in donating hours and volunteering time. We know there’s value in it, but we never assigned a dollar amount to how much good we’re doing in the community.”
He adds, “Creating a profile where we can showcase our efforts and the impact we have on the community—especially in some of those less concrete dollar amounts we’re donating—has been a huge benefit.”
For other small businesses looking to create a similar type of Give Back Program, George is very encouraging. His advice is to look at revenue versus profit and loss and understand the difference. “One of the mistakes we learned early on was to not base our donation amount off of revenue and sales,” he admits. “Our profit margins vary so greatly from project to project; we didn’t want to be refined and held down to making a large donation for a project when there was little profit. After the first year, we learned to base our donation amount on profits.”
Another challenge for Drive Research is the inherent desire to do more.
“As a growing business, the nature of our work ebbs and flows. We’d love to participate more if we could. It’s a struggle to try to balance how much is too much because, at the end of the day, we are business and we still need to operate and have paying clients, so we can’t have all of our employees out all the time volunteering and not doing client work.”
George recommends businesses think ahead as much as possible and try to plan for opportunities to get involved with two or three organizations your company is well aligned with and enjoys working with.
“The more we grow and the more work we do, the bigger projects we get and the better relationships we have with our clients, the more we’re able to give back to the community,” George explains. “It’s a monetary amount and it’s much different than volunteering time or doing projects in kind, but it’s the easiest way for us to make an impact.”
The more growth and the more opportunities to give back, the more the company feels a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s huge. Every time we make a donation, I wish I could do more. It never feels like enough. I get the most fulfillment when we send those checks out for $250 or make those pooled donations to the United Way,” admits George.
“More organizations should take advantage of this type of program and showcase what they’re doing for the community. It’s something that can be standardized for any organization no matter what you offer, whether it’s a product or service. You can easily build a portion of your revenues, your profit going back to an organization,” he advises.
“I think it’s important for business owners and organizations to make time for volunteering,” he underscores. “It’s part of a bigger message you need to be sending to your employees. At Drive Research, volunteering and giving back to the community is built into everybody’s job responsibilities and profile.”
Drive Research has always been fueled by data—and a need to give back to be immersed in the community. It’s George’s way of using his passion for market research and paying homage to his family’s roots in the automotive industry. This drive has created a ripple effect: It benefits the company’s clients’, develops growth-oriented roles for the company’s team, and creates a positive impact on the community.
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