Does your nonprofit ask the people who benefit from its services how to improve the organization? If so, do you give these clients, customers or beneficiaries fast and easy tools to tell you what they think?
Mia Birdsong, vice president of the Family Independence Initiative, and Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits, recently addressed how to make the most of feedback in an online discussion sponsored by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Why seek feedback?
“Feedback can help nonprofits make their work have more impact and improve their services,” says Birdsong, whose organization aims to increase the social and economic mobility of low-income families. Foundations and other nonprofits can also “use consumer feedback to inform funding decisions and understand market demand,” she says.
Using feedback from the people you serve not only can boost your not-for-profit’s performance, but it also lets them know their opinions count. And it might impress funders, especially if you incorporate the feedback into your objectives.
What works best?
Here are some suggestions for getting and using feedback that Birdsong and Ni offered in the discussion “How charities get ideas from the people they serve”:
Invite opinions. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media to post and share messages that invite feedback from the people who use your services. Keep your messages simple and friendly.
Ni, whose organization provides information on charities to potential donors, volunteers and others, suggests writing something like, “Hey, if you have comments or suggestions or compliments for us — write a review about us!” Include a link to the website where people can post their responses.
Be vigilant and creative. Solicit feedback quarterly from the people who use your services. One charity that assists low-income people wants its customers to write an online review of the organization. So it packs a reminder note in the bags of groceries it hands out.
Be versatile. Use the technological tool or tools you think your clients will respond to best. For example, if you assist young adults, you might want to use texting because it’s so popular with this age group.
Be grateful. Let the people who give you feedback know you appreciate it. On GreatNonprofits.org, for instance, some organizations post a response of “Thanks!” next to the comments. If the feedback is critical of your organization, try to contact the person directly and schedule a time to meet face-to-face to discuss a solution.
Make changes. Take your clients’ and customers’ suggestions to heart. For example, students giving feedback to Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County, a dropout prevention program, suggested creating an informal area for hanging out. The organization designated a space and furnished it with some sofas and a coffee table. The students reportedly were delighted.
Don’t forget the “computer-less.” While most people use the Internet daily, there is still a small portion of the population that doesn’t even own a computer. So use a paper survey to harvest their opinions. A template you can use and upload is available at GreatNonprofits.org.
Seek out non-clients and non-customers. You may need to go the extra mile to figure out why potential clients or customers don’t use your services. Putting together a focus group is one effective method. A family foundation, for instance, “sweetened the pot” by paying for the time of a group of teens to attend the focus group — a common practice for focus groups, in general — and also paid for the kids’ food and transportation.
From the bottom up
“Nonprofits pay for a lot of needs assessments,” says Ni, “but mostly those are top-down assessments that don’t get granular about 1) how the customer/client would prioritize the problems they face and 2) what solutions they may have for overcoming the challenge.” Try using the bottom-up approach at your organization, and you might come up with some fresh ideas that will work for you.