Nonprofits spend all kinds of time developing innovative programming and describing it to donors, but far too few spend the same kind of time checking with their constituents to see if the innovations are actually working.
As the Altruist says: "it’s estimated that fewer than 20 percent of organizations assess program effectiveness by soliciting feedback from the people they serve." Yikes! This is like planning a party, sending invitations, decorating, preparing food and drink, and even having the party, but not taking notice if people are having a good time.
"Evidence suggests that beneficiary engagement levels positively correlate with program quality: the more engaged the constituent, the greater the program," according to the Altruist. And great programs not only serve constituents, they also attract donors, media attention, community awards and other positive recognition of the nonprofit. This, in turn, feeds its ability to do more good. The relationship between customers, programs and resources comes as no surprise to most nonprofits.
The rub is less that nonprofits don't recognize the importance of customer input. Rather, the problem lies in not knowing how to efficiently get it, nor what to do with it once they have it. These are really crucial issues.
First, how can nonprofits efficiently gather input and feedback from their beneficiaries and customers? This was much more of a problem before the advances and increased use of technology. But with the proliferation of mobile devices and internet use, easy-to-use and engaging survey tools are a dime a dozen. (SurveyMonkey and SurveyMethods are two.) Those nonprofits who value the ideas and experience of those they serve will find a wide range of cost efficient means to plumb the depths of their customers' experiences.
Second, what should a nonprofit do with the information once they have it? The simple answer is customer feedback and input should be a key influencer of strategic planning initiatives. In other words, when the board sits down to assess past performance and make plans for the future, they should use the experiences, ratings, and suggestions of the nonprofit's customers as the basis of their efforts. If the nonprofit doesn't know how to do this, it's time to get some outside help. There are plenty of good consultants who specialize in assessment and strategic planning.
The important point here is, what your customers think of you and your programs matters. So, not only should nonprofits invest in new programs, but also in the means to understand if programs are working for those they're designed to benefit. Sounds like common sense, right?