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Want to Know What Donors Are Thinking? Try Asking Them.

We recently conducted a client focus group to get insights from customers who are using a new product of ours called DonorPages. It helps nonprofits use social networking to assist supporters soliciting donations or sponsors for events (or virtual events). Anyway, the feedback was really interesting and incredibly useful — and not entirely what we expected.

I suspect that most nonprofits have never thought about organizing a donor or constituent focus group, but I think it is a great idea and not hard at all. Here are a few tips based on our experience:

Virtual focus groups – A simple conference call is easy to setup and not at all costly (even free). Since you don’t have visual queues like raising one’s hand in a virtual meeting, it usually best to keep them to about 6 participants.

Have a clear theme – What are you trying to learn? For example it could be what aspects of your mission are most important to donors or how to improve your communication with supporters. Focusing on one main topic helps keep the sessions from getting out of control.

Prepare just 3 or 4 questions – Keep them open-ended to encourage more in-depth responses. Listen and ask probing follow-up questions when appropriate. To “break the ice” ask participants to introduce themselves and answer a short question like how long they’ve been a supporter.

The moderator – Speak as little as possible. Your job is just to ask the questions, facilitate discussion by keeping it on topic and encourage participation by all. Let participants know that you may need to limit their comments so everyone gets to speak.

Record the call – You probably want someone else listening and taking notes but recording the call makes it easy to ensure all the insights get summarized. It is also a great way to share information with others who don’t participate.

In this challenging economy, it is that much more important to stay in touch with your constituents. What better way than to ask them what they think? So try a focus group — and let me know how it goes.

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