Customer Feedback in the Non-Profit Sector: Listening to Low-Income Consumers | Beth's Blog

Customer Feedback in the Non-Profit Sector: Listening to Low-Income Consumers

Guest Post, Listening

Note From Beth: With the rise of mobile adoption and the primary use to access the Internet and social platforms, it is reaching across consumer segments of all income levels.  Zero Divide published a report called “Funding Mobile Strategies for Social Impact: The Future is Now”. that explores how mobile is bridging the digital divide and opportunity for nonprofits.   All this adds up to the why it is even more important to pay attention to Crowdsourcing platforms, social media, and rating sites can serve as useful feedback channels for nonprofits.


Customer Feedback in the Non-Profit Sector: Listening to Low-Income Consumers – Guest Post by Mia Birdsong and Perla Ni

We all recognize how consumer feedback drives competition, innovation, and continual adjustments in the for profit world—who hasn’t read Amazon reviews before buying a product or Tripadvisor to research a hotel? But to-date, useful and common sense consumer feedback tools are largely absent in the nonprofit sector.

It’s time for change. We can improve the nonprofit sector by innovating consumer feedback systems.   Nonprofit programs can be more successful if they listen and gain insights from the feedback of low-income consumers.

Consumer feedback offers critical information to funders, non-profit organizations, and the low-income people who use services and programs. With a good feedback system in place programs can be held accountable to those they serve. Consumers will see that their voices make a difference when programs are adjusted and measures of success redefined in response to feedback. And they will find the reviews of others helpful and empowering for their program and service decisions.  Nonprofits will benefit from detailed information about program strengths and shortcomings.  Nonprofits that receive high ratings and reviews from the people who use their services will attract greater supporters and funders.  And everyone wins when programs become more efficient and effective, improving program quality and outcomes.

Asking the Customer

A first step for such a system wide change to occur is for nonprofits and funders to recognize the people who receive services as consumers. Our current system, with needs assessment and identification of deficits as a point of entry, maintains a stereotype of program recipients as helpless and uninformed. Providers don’t naturally value the opinion of someone they see as incapable and in need of guidance. It is time to up end this stereotype.

There is a growing movement to value, collect and share feedback from low-income consumers. Transparent feedback allows people to distinguish between good and bad services, to avoid wasting time, and to exchange valuable information. This exchange is empowering, and technology has made it more accessible.

We know that when low-income families can access other people’s consumer feedback it is both extremely useful and a source of empowerment. The Family Independence Initiative’s last 10 years of working with low-income families, has repeatedly evidenced the power of information sharing.

And there are some very good efforts to collect and value feedback on non-profits. For example, GreatNonprofits, encourages people to post reviews, photos, and videos about nonprofits. The website also enables nonprofits to invite their users and volunteers to post feedback about them.

For one nonprofit, the programmatic feedback of reviews on helped them better serve their students.  Communities In Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County, heard from one of its students about its school day schedule.  “We considered that information when it made the schedule for the next school year,” say Nicole Molinaro, Executive Director.  “And after talking to other students who agreed with the we decided to change the schedule!”   Another student suggested that the organization build a student lounge.  Communities in Schools responded by creating with a small area for students to relax before or after their classes.   “We may not have done this if it weren’t for reading that review,” says Molinaro.

Nonprofits can gain insights about what their low-income families most value about their programs.  For instance, North Hill Community Outreach, is interfaith nonprofit that helps people in poverty or crisis.   They learned from reviews on the site that their clients appreciated the tangible supplies, such as food and coats, that they received from the organization.  “We also learned that what the clients appreciated most was the caring and dedicated volunteers,” says Fay Morgan, Executive Director of North Hills Community Outreach.  With that in mind, the organization made it a top priority to attract and keep attentive, compassionate volunteers.

In addition to nonprofits, increasingly individual donors and foundations read reviews of nonprofits.   Already, nonprofits that have positive reviews report fundraising success with individual donors.  And foundations such as The Grable Foundation in Pittsburgh, PA already asks its applicants whether or not they have reviews on

Nonprofits, foundations and low-income consumers all benefit when feedback systems provide visibility into the strengths of a program, and helps improve programs.

For more background, we have an article in the Summer 2012 issue of SSIR and we will be having a Live Chat with Chronicle of Philanthropy on July 10th. Please join us for the conversation.

Mia Birdsong is the vice president of the Family Independence Initiative, a national organization working to increase social and economic mobility for low income families. She is also an Ascend Fellow of the Aspen Institute.
Perla Ni is the CEO of GreatNonprofits, the leading developer of tools that allow people to find, review, and share information about nonprofits, and the founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.


11 Responses

  1. Hi,I would like to know more about your The Networked for Nonprofit.I would love to start my own blog,I’m the Volunteer Coordinator for the Colorado African Organization.

  2. Alison says:

    I LOVE this post. I think the nonprofit sector has so much to learn from the web 2.0 world of instant feedback. Thanks to all the work that both of you are doing, Perla and Mia!

  3. Beth says:

    Alison – I love this post too!

    Linda, the Networked Nonprofit is the title of my book, you can order it on amazon here:

  4. Heather says:

    I’m wondering how to get low income people to have access to the internet. One article refers to phones but most people in my neighborhood don’t have computers much less smart phones.

  5. I totally agree! Our projects are designed by our listeners and users. Its vital that we provide the information our beneficiaries want, not what we think they want. Our radio broadcasts encourage text based feedback and our climate change portal will be based on crowd sourced information supporting by open source data. An easy way to demonstrate our effectiveness is by listening to what people say about our work!

  6. […] writes about engaging clients to determine and measure impact, and Beth Kanter writes about several nonprofits’ use of constituent feedback in programmatic design and evaluation. This strand of thinking is a core principle in the trendy […]

  7. Perla says:

    @Heather @Anne-Marie Soulsby Yes, at GreatNonprofits, we plan to launch a mobile (non-smart phone) version of our feedback form to enable more people to provide feedback.
    It’s so important to nonprofits providing services to people to know what is working, what isn’t, both short term and long term. Technology tools like GreatNonprofits makes it faster, cheaper and easier for nonprofits to get this valuable data.

  8. The IdeaWall says:

    A way to also get feedback is through discussions that allow customers to voice their opinion in real time. We have a product that called The IdeaWall that allows customers to be involved in Feedback. The IdeaWall is a product designed to capture, manage, and prioritize your customers’ inputs. It easily manages your customer feedback and empowers them to submit their ideas, discuss, vote and be notified of updates.

  9. […] Earn More Money By Using The Benefits Of Customer FeedbackCustomer Feedback And The Benefits Your Business Can EnjoyLearn All the Ways Customer Feedback Can Be Used to Improve Your MarketingLeveraging Customer FeedbackWhy Your VoC Program Needs More Than Customer FeedbackGaining Insights With Customer Feedback SurveysCloudera Manager 4.0: Customer Feedback and AdoptionCustomer Feedback in the Non-Profit Sector: Listening to Low-Income Consumers […]

  10. Enrich Lives says:

    I personally deborah like that RSS feed to appear in front to have enjoyment from reading your negligence appreciate you’ve never the internet online marketers sights we ll a prime website

  11. […] nonprofit sector has been buzzing about the idea of feedback loops. Nonprofits are adapting customer feedback models from the private sector in their desire to listen to constituents […]

Leave a Reply