Community interviews: the benefits of doing them yourself

An essential part of any strategic plan or fundraising plan that we are working on are the community interviews.

There are benefits to doing community interviews yourself.

You don’t have to have your consultant do all of the community interviews. While our team is very proficient at interviewing, we still insist that our client’s  board and staff members conduct most of those conversations.


Here are a few of the benefits that I have seen:

  • These are your relationships, not mine. You need to strengthen those relationships, not me.
  • You can respond to opportunities or requests immediately… and you assume personal accountability to the asker. If I pass the request along, it’s too easy for you to ignore it.
  • Board members are often too myopic, wrapped in your organization’s bubble. A view from the outside is a nice breeze of fresh air.
  • For board members reluctant to talk to other people, structured questions are a safe way to exercise the schmooze muscle.
  • People tend to remember what they hear directly rather than what they read or heard in a report.
  • Community members or donors like to hear from board members, or our executive director, or even other staff members, depending on who they are.
  • There is a lot of wisdom out there you are likely missing if you don’t ask for it.

If I haven’t convinced you, here’s what a board chair recently shared with me:

“BTW, this [community interview] process is actually really fun and am getting to know some key folks even better.  They all love that we are doing this and are willing to either arrange a call or meeting as a result.  Plus, for a change, not asking for money!  Lots of compliments on the questions too.”

Your team will need support to conduct these interviews

You want a list of questions that you work on together. Our list of questions usually include:

  • A warm up question relevant to your organization (e.g. how did you get your first job? What is your favorite natural place? What teacher influenced you the most?)
  • A little bit of history on their relationship with your organization or what they have heard about you
  • Their own priorities and what changes are influencing their own planning
  • Some questions about your specific mission environment or your organization (do they see service gaps, what would they mourn if you stopped doing it, what shouldn’t you be doing, if they were you, what would they focus on)
  • Opportunities to strengthen your relationship or partnership

You’ll want to provide them with content to ask for an interview. Or have the ED or Board chair send a letter or email of introduction requesting an interview.

An agreed upon list of people to interview, usually including colleagues, political leaders, gov’t agency officials, donors/members/funders, volunteers (can be focus groups),community/civic/business leaders…. people you know and people you don’t know. Divide the list on who is most likely to be able to reach that person… and also consider the protocols of who approaches whom. Shoot for at least 25 people to be interviewed. If each person takes three, that’s quite reasonable.

Determine the process for receiving and analyzing the notes (this is where you consultant comes in handy).

Don’t forget the thank you notes.

Then do something with all of that new knowledge!

7/100 Things: Stop talking to yourself and start listening to others

Strategic planning: where to involve your board. Part 1.

Nonprofit strategic planning: where to involve your board. Part 2.


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