The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Conducting a User Feedback Session

Just as businesses have customers; nonprofits have constituents. While customers are typically paying customers, constituents are just as vital to the nonprofit. In both scenarios, user feedback is vital for an organization’s success, as feedback sessions allow nonprofits to understand how well they are providing your services, what needs their constituents have, and how they can reevaluate their needs for the future.

User feedback sessions can take many forms, but are most typically one-on-one interviews, ideally conducted in-person but easily done so on the phone or with Skype. How can nonprofits collect accurate user feedback without hiring an external firm and blowing through their already-stretched budgets?

Nonprofit employees can conduct successful user feedback sessions by following a few simple rules:

  1. Understand your goals.

Before even beginning to script an interview, have an idea of what information your nonprofit hopes to glean from the feedback. For example, would you like to understand how to better supply a service? Or, are you trying to understand the nonprofit sector’s current perception of your organization? The more specific questions are, the more tangible and useful the feedback will be.

  1. Write a script for the feedback session, but follow it loosely

When conducting a user feedback session, it’s important to determine the tone of your voice along with major talking points beforehand. You don’t want to sound like a robot, but you also don’t want to sound like a teenager on his first date. Writing a script helps focus your thoughts, but shouldn’t be used as the end-all for an interview. Don’t feel like you need to read every word directly off of the page. If a user has already answered a question, skip it. If you want to dig deeper into a response, you can do so. It’s your interview, after all. Roll with the punches, but have a script to refer to as a back-up when nerves strike or conversation dies down.

  1. Remain neutral

People want to be perceived as pleasant in another’s eyes, especially if you’re meeting for the first time. Be careful in how you introduce yourself during an interview. If you say, “I am in charge of X program, which has been my life’s work and like a second child to me,” your research is going to be very skewed. Explain to interviewees that your role is to investigate, find flaws, and target ways to make programs better. Be clear that challenging feedback is good feedback.

  1. Ask open-ended questions.

Try to stay away from questions with a binary response – this is a sure way to shut down dialogue. Rather than asking “Would you rather have service A or service B”, ask “What are your thoughts on these services?” Though both questions beg similar responses, the latter asks the interviewee to expand upon his or her thoughts in a more constructive way.

  1. Allow for silence

Silence is an uncomfortable but important component of receiving user feedback. When asking a question, allow for ten or fifteen seconds of silence. Don’t quickly jump to clarify – give your user some time to think through their answer. Users often give the best information in off-handed comments after their original train of thought.

Feedback experts – what are other tips and tricks of the trade? Share in the comments below!

Anisha Singh is a business analyst at GuideStar. She splits her time between the Strategy Team, Finance Team, and Office of the President/CEO. Anisha is a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in International Studies and Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding the best restaurants in DC, and annoying her brother with her philanthropy chatter. You can reach Anisha at

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice