The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

What Inspires Donors to Give? Find Out Through Focus Groups

The key to fundraising is building and maintaining relationships with current and prospective donors. Few organizations focus on learning more about their current donors’ philanthropic interests and views of the organization. What nonprofits need most is to understand why stakeholders contribute and what motivates them to share their time, talent, and treasure. One cost-effective method to build and maintain these relationships is a donor focus group.

A focus group is a two-way communication and brainstorming tool that:

  1. Allows you to obtain deeper insights and diverse, broader perspectives related to a wide range of topics related to your organization.
  2. Offers an efficient, low-cost strategy to gather authentic data from a group of people for problem solving.
  3. Help you access your database of donors, volunteers, and clients to create a synergy where others’ responses are built upon.
  4. Increases participation among stakeholders to foster and retain donor loyalty.
  5. Provides ideas for tailored marketing materials and communications.

Here are some helpful steps for coordinating focus groups:

First, determine the purpose of the focus group and the objectives for each session. Is it for fundraising, strategic planning, program development, or evaluation?

Next, identify a professional facilitator to engage participants by creating an open environment where they can speak freely. The most effective third-party facilitator will have no prior history with your organization.

Identify a note taker, if necessary, such as when the facilitator is only leading the focus group session.

Recruit seven to 10 interested participants who are comfortable expressing their thoughts in a small group setting. Depending on what your goals, a focus group audience can include donors, but they can also include the individuals or families you serve, vendors, board members, and community stakeholders. You might want to conduct several focus groups, perhaps divided by age, affiliation, gender, and race/ethnicity. This allows you to compare and analyze responses to all questions.

Now that you have your participants, establish the focus group agenda and questions.

Schedule focus groups on a continuing basis to establish benchmarks and measure change. The most effective strategy is to incorporate focus groups into your long-range plan instead of having a few isolated sessions. Focus groups can become a highly successful strategy for building relationships and gaining long-term support from donors, volunteers, and community stakeholders, as well as the clients you serve.

An effective focus group process shares the group’s purpose and desired outcomes, promises confidentiality, and establishes ground rules. Open the group with a creative icebreaker, and encourage participants to be transparent and respond fully to each question. It helps to establish follow-up questions in advance to help draw information from participants.

During the focus group, capture thoughts and ideas on a whiteboard and record the session. Tell participants in advance that their responses will be recorded but kept anonymous. Establish a two-way communication process by sharing information about your organization and garner support for your organization after the focus group is over.

After the session is complete, it’s time to prepare a focus group report. First, list recurring themes related to each focus group question. Identify the major findings of each group, and determine action steps and recommendations related to those findings. Describe any unique ideas, stories, or new communications suggestions that were revealed during the session.

Share your report with focus group participants, your board of directors, staff, and other stakeholders. Create a summary document that captures the themes of all focus groups conducted.

Here are a few sample donor focus group questions:

  • How did you learn about our organization?
    • What are the strengths of our organization? What drew you to us?
  • What distinguishes our organization from others? What are the differentiators?
  • Did you respond to a particular fundraising campaign? If so, was there a particular reason you responded to that campaign?
  • How would you describe our organization to a friend, family member, or colleague?
  • Are there certain issues or causes you are especially interested in?
  • What are some key attributes or qualities a nonprofit should have for you to make a gift?
  • What would prevent you from supporting an organization or would cause you to withdraw support?

Focus groups are a win-win method for making personal connections with donors and learning in their own words why they support your organization. In addition to helping you find out what stakeholders want, focus groups may help donors become even more inspired when they see the impact of their contributions and how important they are to your organization.


Capture valuable insight about your donors—and then act on it with targeted, more relevant communications with Network for Good’s easy-to-use donor management system. Schedule your personalized tour of our fundraising software today

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About This Blog

Liz Ragland
Manager, Content & Community

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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