Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pt. 2 - Unleashing the Power of Focus Groups: How to Find Out What Your Donors are Saying About You

What are people really saying about your organization?

Last month, we posted about how focus groups are the key to understanding how your donors feel, think, and talk about your organization. We also wrote about the first 5 out of 10 steps to follow if you want to hold a successful focus group. Today, we’re going to talk about the rest of these steps.

What is a focus group? It’s a small group of people whose opinions about something are studied to learn the opinions that can be expected from a larger group (Merriam-Webster). 

When Giving Focus held a series of focus groups at Pines Village Retirement Communities in Valparaiso, IN, we followed a 10-step plan from Judith Simon Sharken’s book The Wilder Nonprofit Field Guide to Conducting Successful Focus Groups. 

The first 5 steps are:

   1. Define the purpose
   2. Establish a timeline
   3. Identify and invite the participants
   4. Generate the questions to be asked
   5. Develop the script (we preferred to use an outline)

To read our post about how Giving Focus carried out these first 5 steps, click here.

The rest of the steps are:

   1. Select a facilitator
   2. Choose the location
   3. Conduct the focus group
   4. Interpret and report results
   5. Translate the results into action

A good facilitator understands group dynamics. He or she is a good meeting leader and will be a gracious host. Good facilitators will keep the discussion on track and will make sure that everyone is heard. When you’re selecting your facilitator, the comfort of your participants should be a key factor. A facilitator from outside of the organization may be viewed as more objective and can elicit more honest responses from participants. 

Andrea is a communications expert and her facilitation of the Pines Village focus groups was met with rave reviews from participants! Contact Andrea today to learn more about how she can be the facilitator of your focus group.

Is the location of your focus group inviting? Can it comfortably accommodate everyone? Is it easy to get to? The Pines Village focus groups took place in the main building of the organization. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, and all participants knew exactly where to go since they’d all been to Pines Village before. During the focus groups, people sat around one large table. You want everyone to be able to see each other.

When you’re conducting a focus group, Sharken suggests bringing the following list of materials:

  • Extra notepads and pencils
  • Flip chart or easel paper
  • Focus group script or outline
  • List of participants with phone numbers
  • Markers
  • Masking tape
  • Name tags
  • Refreshments
  • Tape recorder (optional – you may wish to have someone take notes in place of or in addition to a recorder)
  • Watch or clock 

After you’ve held your focus group, the next step is to interpret and report the results from the information you’ve collected. For Pines Village, Andrea used the focus group information to create an internal case statement. An internal case statement is a collection of talking points for why a donor should give to your organization. (For more information on internal case statements, visit fundraising communications expert Tom Ahern’s website). When you’re reporting on your focus group results, it’s good to include the background and purpose of the report, the details of the sessions (who, what, when, and where), the results, and the conclusions drawn.

The final step of conducting successful focus groups is to translate the results into action. In the Pines Village case, this means that Andrea will train the staff and board on the internal case statement, enabling them to talk about their organization in a clear and compelling way that relates to and resonates with donors and supporters.

If you want to hold a focus group, following Sharken’s 10 steps to conducting successful focus groups works. The Pines Village focus groups were a huge success, and they told the managers of Pines Village exactly what they wanted to know: 

  • the words and phrases the community uses to describe the organization
  • what makes the organization unique, setting it apart from the other organizations in the community that provide similar services
  • what inspires people to give to the organization
  • the kinds of questions potential donors will ask



For more information about how we can help you conduct a focus group so that you can understand what your donors really think about you, contact Andrea today.


Simon, Judith Sharken. The Wilder Nonprofit Field Guide to Conducting Successful Focus Groups. Saint Paul, Minn: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 1999. Print.

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