People are always surprised when I self-identify as an introvert. I guess I can understand why. Marketers, by nature, tend to be a chatty breed who can easily strike up a conversation with anyone, any time.
I, sadly, was not blessed with this talent.
The good news is that being on the shy side can be overcome. It helps to be naturally curious about people and why they do what they do. Nonprofits, with their strong focus on building relationships between constituents and between their organization and the community, have this in abundance. But approaching conversations with a genuine interest builds a natural rapport that makes talking to anyone – even a complete stranger – easier.
What else helps? Being prepared.
Over the last several weeks I’ve done more talking than I have in a long time, to people I’ve never met about things in which I’m admittedly not an expert. I was curious to hear their perspective, but I also took the step of preparing with a level of depth and consistency that gave Amanda the Introvert the confidence to approach these conversations with gusto. I’ve come away from each reenergized and excited to share what I learned with others.
There’s no shortage of advice suggesting that you reach out and gather member feedback on a regular cadence. With time in short supply, nonprofits have turned to digital means to gather the information in bulk. Surveys remain a popular and important option for getting a volume of responses and a statistically significant sample to help drive smart decisions (check this blog post for tips on getting the most from member surveys).
Yet it’s one-on-one conversations and interviews that give us real insight into what constituents think. Member feedback can illuminate things we hadn’t considered, tell us what people feel is important or to help us recognize, or validate, areas ripe for improvement. Member feedback is valuable when:
- You’re looking for inspiration. Maybe you want to answer the big picture questions, revisit your brand, grow in new ways.
- You want to understand behavior. Have members who aren’t renewing? A survey will tell you some things, but a phone call may tell you more.
- You need to answer a specific question. Are you getting ready to increase dues by a certain amount? Are you adding or changing a feature on your community? Asking a yes or no question is helpful but getting the why behind the answer is often more informative.
4 Tips to Improve Your Member Feedback Efforts
Interviews create opportunities for the exchange of information, but effective interviews are about listening. Look at the interview as a research opportunity where you’re looking to learn as much as you can. While the information from an interview can drive a sale – whether it’s improving the membership process, making it easier to register for event, donate to a cause – but the primary goal of your conversations shouldn’t be measured in term of dollars and cents.
Get the most from interviews by:
1. Identifying (and documenting) your goal
What do you want to learn? If you’re working as part of a broader team, what do they want to learn?
Being crisp and specific about what you’re hoping to glean from the conversation is paramount to driving the kinds of insights you’re looking for. Starting with a goal that’s too broad, e.g. “learn about members” is setting yourself up for failure because the questions will lack focus and consistency. A clear, concise goal related to something more specific can not only direct how you conduct the interview but ensure you have consensus among stakeholders looking to benefit from your learnings.
2. Get comfortable (both of you).
Are you nervous? The chances are good that the person at the other end of the conversation may be too. Opening up to a complete stranger about things that someone may consider personal is an awkward process. People are more likely to talk honestly if they feel relaxed, trust the interviewer and are comfortable with the process.
Minimize any first date-style awkwardness by:
- Establishing some sort of contact before the interview. Reach out via video chat or phone call – at the very least and send a quick email reminding them of the time scheduled for your conversation and thanking them for their time!
- Setting expectations up front by starting the interview with a quick explanation of why you’re talking and how any information you gather will be used.
- Making sure your interview subject feels heard. Take notes, make eye contact. Acknowledge their statements with simple phrases like “That’s helpful, thank you.” This is not the time to multitask.
- Using your manners! Let anyone you’re interviewing finish their thoughts – don’t interrupt! Please and thank you also go a long way so use them often. And don’t rush. Gently slowing your speech has a calming effect that suggests you’re relaxed and have time to listen.
- Being authentic, and not faking interest. Acting can make you appear disingenuous. It is better to be yourself; don’t say something if you don’t genuinely feel it.
- Starting with easy questions that will help you get the ball rolling and build momentum in your conversation.
3. Prepare questions before the interview.
Speaking of questions, bring to your interview a list of questions you want answered as part of the member feedback exercise. Documenting your questions in advance helps you set expectations with your internal stakeholders, gives you the chance to write clearer questions than you might in the moment and ensures you don’t forget what you were looking to learn.
When writing your questions, be sure to:
- Prepare for different responses. You don’t know what you don’t know. However, anticipating answers to the best of your ability can help you prepare. What would you say if your interviewee didn’t have a response for your question? What follow-ups might you ask to get a valuable answer?
- Limit your questions to just one thing. Instead of “Do you use social media and, if so, which sites do you use?” try, “How often do you check your social media?” and then follow up with “Which sites do you use most frequently?”
- Avoid leading questions. Your interview is designed to help you learn about your constituents. Don’t frame your questions with assumptions about what they may or may not think. For example, a question like “Why did you like our 2018 annual conference so much?” suggests the constituent enjoyed the conference. Another approach would be, “Why did you attend the annual conference last year?”
- Keep it clear. Vague questions can be difficult to understand and risk confusing participants, making them uncomfortable or feeling guilty because they don’t understand what you mean.
- Prepare more questions than you have time for. Some interviewees give long answers while others respond at a rapid clip, with brief snippets of detail. Prepare for both scenarios by ensuring you have the right number of questions to deliver the same amount of information.
Self-proclaimed King of All Media Howard Stern once said, “In my real life, I have a hard time having a conversation with anybody.” Host of NPR’s Fresh Air Terry Gross has shared, “I try not to equate (an) interview with real life.” Although both of them sometimes struggle – in very different ways, with very different styles – with the intimacy of an interview, they’ve become the best in getting stories from their subjects the hard way: with practice.
Set yourself up for success by spending some time with your questions. While it may feel foolish, read them out loud. Daydream about the conversation and think about where it may go – where you want it to go. You’ll come away feeling more prepared and will exude a level of professionalism your constituents will appreciate.
Understanding member feedback is key. While big-scale efforts like surveys have their place, interviews can be a quick and easy way to compliment macro-level data with depth and qualitative insight. An approach that includes both allows you to develop an accurate, thorough sense of your constituents and leaves your organization with higher feeling of confidence with the information you collect.