Bringing Power and Clarity to Nonprofit Communications


Focus Groups: How 12 People and Two Hours Can Change Your Organization

Focus Groups: How 12 People and Two Hours Can Change Your Organization

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hosting a focus group for your organization can be one of the best ways to gain insights into future marketing and fund-raising decisions. Here’s what focus groups can and can’t do for your organization and how to host an effective one. 


What focus groups can do:

Create and discuss new ideas

A focus group can help you brainstorm or get ideas for a specific issue or problem. They can provide insights into new marketing messages. Host a focus group at the beginning of a project or planning process for ideas. If you are thinking of a new event, ask the target audience to a focus group to brainstorm new event ideas.

React to specific concepts

Use a focus group to get feedback on specific creative strategy or direction. A new tagline, marketing message, fundraising appeal or brochure can benefit from target audience feedback before its printed or launched.

Galvanize participation and support

What happens when you bring 10 to 12 people around the table with similar interests or passions? Often, they become connected by the end of the session…to each other and to your organization. Participants can become more engaged in the project discussed, serving as “ambassadors” for a new event or campaign.


What focus groups can’t do:

Be your sole research methodology

Focus groups are great because they are relatively inexpensive compared to other research methods. Yet focus groups are highly qualitative and not for drawing broad conclusions.

Replace relationship building

Focus groups can offer insight, but are no substitute for getting to know your target audiences and building relationships with them. They can provide insight into the relationship building process, but should not define it.


How to host an effective focus group:

Know what you want to learn

What issue or problem do you need to explore? Are you creating a new image, organizing a new fund-raising campaign or event? Make sure there is a specific issue or problem on the table that you want to discuss.

Identify your audience

Who are you trying to reach? How well do they know your organization? Come up with a demographic profile that you can use to identify and recruit participants.


A focus group works best with about eight to 12 people. You will need to book at least 16 to account for cancellations and no-shows. The less a participant knows your organization, the more you will need to do to get them to participate…this may include a meal or a stipend.

Develop your agenda

Never conduct a meeting without a specific agenda. Your participants’ time is valuable, so use it wisely. Make sure your questions are planned and ready in advance so that you are sure you are getting relevant information. Keep the meeting time to two hours, maximum.

Find a neutral location

Try to avoid hosting the group at your agency. This can be imposing for participants. A banquet room or conference room (maybe a board member or volunteer could provide a space?) off-site work best. Make sure the site is accessible to your target audience…if they have to drive a long distance or take several buses, they will not come.

Find a facilitator

A trained facilitator is the best person for the job. He or she can also help you develop the agenda. If your budget does not allow for this, try to have someone outside the organization run the meeting. It can be a little intimidating for participants if the executive director is asking them questions about giving habits or how they feel about the organization.

Confirm participation

Confirming participation is especially important if participants are not familiar with your organization. You need to confirm twice…once the week before and once the day before.

Go away

When the time comes for the meeting, leave! Open and honest dialogue happens when people feel comfortable about sharing their opinions. If agency leadership is in the room or leading the discussion, it could taint participants’ comments and stifle conversation. If you have to be there, sit in the back and do not participate. This can be especially difficult if you don’t like what you hear, however, it is important to let the participants have their say.

Publish your results

Create a group memory of the conversation to share with your organization. Publish it so that people can see that the changes made as a result of the focus group were thoughtful and appropriate.

Say thank you

Send a thank you note, or if you are doing a series of focus groups, consider a thank you event. Make sure participants understand how their opinions and insights helped your organization make decisions and move forward. You may want to keep them updated as new programs or campaigns are launched.


Need some help?

If you would like to host a focus group but don’t have the time or energy to make it happen, we can help. We can design an interactive session that participants will enjoy and that will create meaningful and useful information for your organization. We can also help you build a plan for future marketing and communication efforts. For more information about 501creative or how to get started with focus groups, contact Karen.

Tags: focus groups