Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

Asking Powerful Questions

People working in service agencies constantly ask questions. During an intake process, questions may assess need and eligibility; in a counseling session, questions may focus on strengths and diagnoses; in an advocacy or organizing setting, the questions can be about root causes, power and strategy. While some questions can seem intrusive and coercive, other questions can “open the door to dialogue and discovery” and invite “creativity and breakthrough thinking." Questions can illuminate new opportunities and build a stronger foundation for relationships. Tapping into the power of questions to generate new possibilities and ignite change is an important tool for service providers working to help people and communities.

This report profiles two organizations that began asking new and powerful questions in their work with clients and volunteers. In the case of Crisis Assistance Ministry – an organization providing support to people and families experiencing financial emergencies in Charlotte, NC – the addition of a simple question about voter registration to their standard battery of questions to screen individuals’ eligibility for public benefits both increased the civic engagement of clients and launched an organization-wide shift towards greater advocacy. For reStart, Inc. in Kansas City, MO, the organization had always relied on volunteers to help serve homeless youth, families and adults, but when they began asking people to reflect on both their volunteer experience and perceptions of homelessness, it deepened volunteers’ motivation to support the organization and the people they help.

Understanding the Problem