To successfully raise money from donors, you have to be able to connect with donors where they are. You have to be able to speak in a language that relates and resonates with donors. But before you can do this, you need to understand how your donors feel, think, and talk about your organization.
Earlier this month, we posted about how focus groups can give you this information. A focus group is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a small group of people whose opinions about something are studied to learn the opinions that can be expected from a larger group.”
So, how do you hold a successful focus group?
We recommend following a 10-step plan from Judith Simon Sharken’s book The Wilder Nonprofit Field Guide to Conducting Successful Focus Groups. In this blog post, we’ll tell you how we carried out the first 5 of these steps when Giving Focus held a series of focus groups last month at Pines Village Retirement Communities in Valparaiso, IN.
The first 5 steps are:
- Define the purpose
- Establish a timeline
- Identify and invite the participants
- Generate the questions to be asked
- Develop a script (we preferred to use an outline)
What do you want to achieve by gathering data through a focus group? Why do you want to know this data? A purpose statement should clearly answer these two questions. Our purpose statement for the Pines Village focus groups was to understand what makes Pines Village special and what makes it stand out from other retirement communities. We wanted to know this so that we could talk clearly and compellingly about Pines Village with donors in ways that would connect with them emotionally.
We established an 8-week timeline that broke the entire process down into small tasks, detailing who was responsible for doing what and by when.
Giving Focus then worked with Pines Village managers to come up with a list of people to invite to the focus groups. One month in advance of the focus group dates, we sent out invitation letters and followed up with phone calls. Once we had a list of confirmed RSVPs, we made reminder calls to everyone about 2 days before the focus groups were scheduled to take place. Note: As a general rule, keep the number of participants per focus group between 6 and 12.
Next, we came up with our list of questions. Focus groups should never exceed 2 hours, so we decided on a duration of 1.5 hours. We found that we could fill (and not exceed) this time slot by asking 6 questions. It’s good to start with a “warm-up” question and then build to more serious questions that get to the heart of what you really want to learn. Here are the questions that we asked:
- What is your Pines Village story?
- What are Pines Village’s greatest strengths?
- What are some of Pines Village’s areas of weakness and opportunities for change?
- Can you give three adjectives that describe your experience with Pines Village?
- If a person approached you about making a charitable gift to Pines Village, what questions would you have for that person?
- If a person asked you why he or she should support Pines Village with a charitable gift, what reasons would you give?
While Sharken suggests writing and following a script while conducting focus groups (so that each focus group is run similarly in order to ensure reliable results), we felt that a script would take away from the our ability to connect with participants on a personal level. We used an outline instead and this worked great for us!
Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll share the next 6 steps with you… and if you want us to work with your organization, please call Andrea.
Simon, Judith Sharken. The Wilder Nonprofit Field Guide to Conducting Successful Focus Groups. Saint Paul, Minn: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 1999. Print.