By Alison Carlman
For a company to stay competitive, it has to understand its customers’ wants and needs, and adapt its products to suit them. Sounds obvious, right? Seemingly, the same model should apply to nonprofits. But the social sector often lacks that vital piece—feedback about the quality of products and services—that is so important to a business. (If customers don’t like a product, they won’t pay for it! But people don’t always have a choice if there’s only one group providing clean water in the village.) As a result, nonprofits’ programs and services aren’t always designed to meet the changing needs of the community.
I’m part of a team at GlobalGiving that’s trying to change that; we’re working to help nonprofits become more effective by listening to the people they serve, acting on what they hear by testing new ideas, and learning faster and more efficiently. We call this the Cycle of Progress: Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.
We believe that organizations that are committed to learning are the ones that will be more effective at meeting the needs of the people they intend to help.
Here are some tips and tools to help you Listen, Act, Learn, and Repeat, thereby helping your organization be more effective:
1. Ask for feedback from the people you intend to help.
The most important stakeholders in your work are the people you intend to help. How do they feel about the quality of your service delivery or the programs you offer? How have those opinions changed over time? Telerivet allows you to conduct a survey of them—or anyone—with a mobile phone through SMS (no internet or smartphones needed.) It works in any country, and allows people to communicate in a way that is comfortable to many (via SMS).
If your survey audience has access to the Internet, however, and you prefer online surveys, SurveyGizmo helps you design surveys and collect and analyze feedback online. They have several tiers of offerings with a monthly pricing structure (but offer a 7-day free trial so you can see if it works for you).
2. Collect stories from the local community (not just the people involved in your programs).
Collecting stories from people who aren’t direct participants in your programs is a great way to understand the problems the broader community experiences and the solutions they do (or don’t) appreciate. Their answers might be much less biased than those of your direct contacts. The GlobalGiving Storytelling Tool lets you build a questionnaire, gather stories from the community, send in your responses, and analyze your results. There are more than 57,000 stories from everyday people in the database already, mostly from East Africa; you can read them or search for topics that interest you.
3. Organize your program data so it is accessible.
Most organizations still use paper forms to collect information, and don’t have the time or resources to make that data useful in a digital format. Captricity is a tool that enables you to upload scans of reports received via mail, fax, PDF, or even free-form handwriting and get back structured, machine-readable data that is remarkably accurate. Try the free version. Batchgeo is a free mapping tool that helps you visualize the data that lives in your spreadsheets. The easy software allows you to paste addresses, intersections, cities, states, and postal codes and voila–it creates an interactive map!
4. Integrate feedback and make a plan to move forward.
Once you’ve gathered data from important stakeholders, what do you do with it? Too much information can often feel paralyzing, so here are some very basic tools that can help you move forward. A SWOT Analysis can help you map the internal and external factors that are assisting or hindering you. This can be a helpful framework for developing a plan to move forward, based on your new learning. A Learning Loop can help you prioritize feedback and help think through the next steps, and a simple Critical Tasks List can help you execute your plan without being overwhelmed.
5. Share your learning with your stakeholders.
It’s important to share your results with your stakeholders, but when you have so much data and feedback, this step can feel overwhelming, too. The Charting Impact Questionnaire helps your organization tell its impact story in an accessible, concise way, and it might even help you sharpen your approach to making a difference. If you’re looking for tips on how to pair your data and stories in a way that moves supporters, try out the Hatch tool, which walks you through developing a storytelling strategy all the way through evaluating the effectiveness of the story itself.
To help nonprofits become more effective, we at GlobalGiving just launched GG Rewards, a new program rewarding nonprofits that are committed to learning and improving. Our nonprofit partners can earn points for using any of the tools above (and many others) to Listen, Act, Learn, and Repeat. We expect to generate at least $6 million in additional funding for nonprofits this year (outside of what our partners raise themselves). With the new GG Rewards, we’re now channeling that extra funding to the organizations that learn and improve the most.
You can access more feedback and effectiveness tools in the Feedback Commons or the DIY Toolkit, and join GlobalGiving to earn points (which leads to more funding!) by using those tools to become more effective.
What other online resources are valuable to help you Listen, Act, Learn, and Repeat?
An earlier version of this post appeared on Beth’s Blog.
Alison Carlman is the Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications at GlobalGiving. She previously served as a Kiva fellow in Kenya, and holds degrees from Pepperddine University and from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Featured image shows a basic cell phone. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
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