The Power of Donor-Centric Thinking

The world’s most innovative nonprofits are constantly getting feedback from their constituents (donors, partners and the people they are serving). They deliberately operate with donor-centric thinking driving all initiatives and activities. It’s impossible to monitor your effectiveness if your team isn’t consistently soliciting feedback from the people you serve – and then rethinking your services from the beneficiaries’ perspectives. For startups, this is often referred to as human-centered design.

In part 3 of our blog series on innovation, we’ll focus on simple ways to use human-centered design and user feedback to make your program and marketing initiatives more effective. Leaning into the pain of your constituents may be the single most effective way to increase fundraising and your overall impact. Many nonprofits fail to achieve their potential simply because they talk far more than they listen. Truly innovative organizations listen and seek to understand before trying to solve the world’s problems.

If user feedback and human-centered design isn’t part of your culture, it can be hard to know where to start. In order to get you on the right path, I’ve included a few helpful tips to help move to a culture that puts constituents first:

Survey Constituents Before You Start

Online surveys or phone surveys are a great way to gather feedback. Make sure that the questions aren’t leading. Don’t be afraid to get objective, unfiltered feedback – it’s the only way you can improve! Let your entire team see the unfiltered results of your interviews so that everyone clearly understands your user’s pain. Wherever possible, you should include both donors and those you are serving in your interviews.

Ask Why – 5 Times

The “5 Whys” was originally developed by Toyota in order to drill down to the true cause of a problem. Rather than assuming that you know what makes your donor act or what creates the greatest impact in the world, you must continue to drill down by asking “why” to ensure that you truly understand the underlying cause and effect. In other words, asking “why” 5 times forces you to truly make sure you understand the underlying pain/need of your donors and the people you are serving.

Get Feedback Prior to Implementation

Rough prototyping is a powerful tool for mitigating the risk of a new campaign or project. Prototypes help you validate your assumptions by getting real feedback from constituents during the project. Don’t assume that your first guess at a solution or campaign idea is correct. The most dangerous thing a nonprofit can do is assume they know what works best – and then spend months and thousands of dollars developing an idea before getting real feedback. Your initial prototypes might include simple imagery of the program/campaign, a manual test, or even a basic version of the project (minimum viable product).

Have Everyone Interact with Constituents

Your entire organization should be directly connected to your constituents. Your team should also be evaluated on how it is addressing constituents’ pain. If you can’t directly tie a job to the pain of a constituent, then it might be an indicator that the job function shouldn’t exist.

Get to Know Your Donors

Donors are more than just checkbooks – they are people. Until an organization truly understands its donors and embraces the fact that they are a key part of the mission, the organization will always be hindered in its work. Talk with donors. Get to know their passions and desires.

Nonprofit Tip: For donors, institute a regular practice of calling and asking how the organization can serve them. Don’t ask for anything in return. Learn what makes them come alive and then, over time, match their personal talents and passions with the cause. But be careful not to adjust your mission to serve the needs of one or two major donors. Instead, respond to the needs of all of your donors.

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