are you asking the right questions?


Nonprofits Can Build Support with Powerful Q&A

Maintaining a strong membership base is critical to the success of many nonprofits and cultural institutions. And while as seasoned organization leaders or marketers, we may feel like we know things about our network or target audience without having to ask. Since we breathe our brand or cause, and can passionately deliver our elevator pitch at the drop of a hat–with our eyes closed and our hands tied behind our back–we feel confident in focusing our energy on the tactile pieces of promotion like membership drives, events, and so forth. But is this really the best approach for your organization’s needs? Is your communication strategy maximized for your target audience? Is your target optimally defined for the long-term goals of your organization?

It might be time to stir up your comfort zone, specifically by asking questions. So let’s discuss the why, the who, and the what… and maybe the why again for crystal-clear clarity.

Why stir the pot? You might simply be too close. This often happens among leadership in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors. You might miss a valuable key insight by relying on your previous knowledge and experience with your own brand or cause. Opening up the floor to hear others’ perspectives may unlock new initiatives to more strongly connect with new prospects or even current supporters.

Who will answer? Typically, anyone that is asked a question will provide some sort of response. It’s human nature. Everyone has an opinion. Engage in dialogue with your team, your members, your donors, your volunteers, and even nonmembers and nondonors. Simply asking community members why they do what they do can create a buzz and an energy to propel your cause. Get people talking privately and on the public stage. Stir the pot and you’ll start a ripple. What do you need to know? The old adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” couldn’t be more true than here. Whatever question you start with will most likely lead you to more questions that you couldn’t see coming. However, we do suggest starting with the most basic of inquiries–what motivates you? Find out what inspires your biggest contributors and identify what your less-engaged stakeholders or noncontributors are missing. Finding these answers may shed light on how you have achieved your current successes and what can be repeated or improved upon for continued organic and orchestrated growth.

Also, consider asking your community members to verbalize your organization’s mission statement or define the top benefits of involvement with your group. This will help you evaluate how well you are executing on your communication goals, and it may spearhead refinement of your guiding marketing strategies. You may learn something new about what it means to be a part of your organization, or you may find that the elevator pitch you can recite backward or forward is new information to some of your most captured audience members.

Why is this Q&A process so important? If we do not understand why people give their time, money, and support, we cannot effectively encourage them to give even more–nor can we compel new adopters. How can we encourage individuals and organizations to voluntarily and enthusiastically share their precious, hard-earned resources if we don’t have a strong handle on what’s in it for them? How can we expand our offerings in the most productive way if we don’t really know what your audience cares about? We need to completely understand the benefits we have to offer to be able to then communicate and leverage them to the most interested parties.

Just as there is a vast array of causes and associations seeking contributors, there is a multitude of reasons that people or businesses engage or donate. Some tangible perks may include tax deductions, reduced rates on goods or services, or even publicity. For both individuals and companies, networking, promoting shared values, community betterment, or measurable impact may also be attractive selling points. You just won’t know what’s most important to your most important people until you ask.