Empathy Interviews for Non-Profit and Social Impact Organizations

Listening to stories from program beneficiaries helps us gain empathy. As we begin to understand a person’s challenges and goals from their perspective, we can co-create genuinely helpful solutions and services.

Empathy interviews in the social impact space require special preparation. Interviewees may have experienced trauma and need a safe space to share. They may also be incredibly aware of a potential power imbalance in the room, particularly if they see the interviewer as the person who may grant benefits or resources. Below are some tips to help as you conduct empathy interviews.

Interview Structure

  • Introduce the purpose of the interview and how it will inform the program
  • Gain their consent to participate
  • Introduce the purpose of the interview and how it will inform the program
  • Ask for stories related to the challenge your program addresses
  • Listen carefully, gently asking clarifying questions if necessary
  • Explore areas that seem particularly important to them
  • Close by warmly thanking them for sharing their perspective

Interview Tips

  • Ensure a physically and emotionally safe environment.
  • If you find yourself teaching or offering solutions, stop, breathe, and listen
  • Consider yourself a novice learning from an expert in their own life.
  • Gather multiple diverse and representative perspectives.
  • Expect some quiet moments while they think. No need to fill the silence.
  • Build a relationship of mutual respect and trust.
  • Interview with a partner who can take notes.

Interview Administration and Analysis

  • There is no magic number of interviews. Interview until themes emerge and you are no longer learning new insights, usually at least 5 interviews.
  • Process your insights together with your partner afterwards.
  • Keep notes in a consistent format to help you synthesize themes.
  • Once you have completed your interviews, agree on themes in partnership with your co-interviewer(s). Place direct quotes into categories based on these themes. Look at the data in multiple ways, looking for overarching insight. Validate themes with your co-designers (interviewees). 

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