Do you want to know what your donors think?
Do you want them to know you care what they think?
Would you like some interesting information about your donors – including testimonials and suggestions you might never get otherwise?
Then you want to try a donor survey
I first created one years ago and have repeated it since. (You can see an example here.) I have to credit this idea to Jonathon Grapsas. Jonathon wrote several posts about donor surveys that just made so much sense. I had to try it!
(You can find Jonathon’s posts on surveys in SOFII’s collection here. I urge you to read it all).
I didn’t create a survey with the expectation that I’d be gathering a statistically viable snapshot of our donor base. In a smaller organization, you don’t often have the numbers to make that possible. Besides, I was really looking for the soft stuff, anyway. Donor surveys are full of lots of great information, much of anecdotal. So think of a survey as part of your donor retention efforts.
Spend some time thinking about what you’d like to know
You’ll need to balance curiosity with respect for your donors’ privacy. It helps to have a sense of your donors to begin with. For instance, here in New England, I had a gut feeling that asking for someone’s age would be met with a brisk “none of your business!” So I asked about how long they’d lived in the area, instead. That wasn’t threatening, and many respondents volunteered their age in their answers.
Keep your survey focused
Once word gets out that you’re putting together a survey, everyone in the office will have a question they’re dying to include. Don’t get off-track. And keep it reasonably short. You want people to do this, after all.
Leave room for surprises
While I included easily answered multiple choice or yes/no questions, the most interesting responses came from more open-ended questions. I particularly liked the answers to questions like “why did you first decide to support our organization?” or “What’s the most important program we have?”.
I used the same 11 x 17 paper I talked about last week for newsletters. You can fit a good amount on one page and it still folds up nicely in a #10 envelope. I totally took my design cues from the work Jonathon talked about. (Thanks again, Jonathon!) I resisted the urge to let the font size get too small. I used a few great photos to break up all the type. The photos were also an emotional reminder of what I hoped our donors loved about our organization.
Personalize your survey
I printed the donor’s name, address, email and phone numbers on the back page. Where we had any gaps in that information, I inserted lines and asked the donor to fill it in.
Consider asking your survey to do double duty
Here’s another idea that worked very well for me. I included an appeal. The surveys were sent out early in the year. I used that timing to ask donors to commit early to their gift for the year. I explained that their early commitment would make it much easier for us to budget for the coming year. I gave them the option of sending a gift, or making a pledge to be paid by year-end.
The surveys were a great success. And so much fun! People seemed to truly enjoy being asked for their thoughts. And while not everyone returned a gift or a pledge, many people did. We were able to use some of the information we gathered to target future communications. For instance, if we knew a donor was particularly interested in one program, we could mention that in future appeals. Almost all the responses were positive. But when I learned something needed attention, I could talk to the donor right away to put things right.
You’ll want to think through how to capture the information in your database. This can be tricky. I couldn’t reduce prose answers to something easily quantifiable. But much of the information could be captured that way. For the rest, I kept all of the returned surveys in a binder. I often referenced them when I wanted a quote or some deeper information on a particular donor.
Make it personal and don’t forget to say thanks
The last step is also important: every donor who returned a survey – with a gift or not – got a personal thank you from me. I called some who offered particularly positive comments to ask if we could quote them in the future.
Greg Warner says
These are great points Mary. Thanks for sharing them. Any idea where we can find great examples of questions found on donor surveys? I looked on Jonathan’s website and on Sofii but didn’t find much.
Mary Cahalane says
Greg, here’s a sample of one that Jonathon had highlighted. Can’t find the original link anymore, and the one on SOFII is hard to read, but this one is easily read. I didn’t copy the same questions, obviously, but they gave me an idea of where to go. http://www.malwarwick.com/learning-resources/e-newsletters/images-archive/the-cancer-council.html
Mary Cahalane says
Greg,I also wrote about it once before, on Pamela Grow’s blog. There’s a picture of the survey I did for the organization I worked for then. Link: http://www.pamelasgrantwritingblog.com/2133/fundraising-in-the-trenches-surveying/
Mariana Evica says
Our organization has a fairly small donor base (under 2k), though it is growing. Is our organization big enough to benefit from what this would yield (versus cost — sorry, had to ask, since my E.D. will!)
I’ll say that I immediate recognize that some anecdotal donor responses (from appeal mailings, social media comments, etc.) are pure gold, and I already value those for the power of what they convey.
Mary Cahalane says
Hi! When I tried this, it was with a donor base of about 900-1200. I did it all myself, so the expense wasn’t much, beyond mailing. I’ll be honest: I was a little surprised by the volume of responses. Obviously, people wanted to be asked! Some of the responses then were highlighted in our next newsletter – which tied things up well.
No guarantee that every organization’s donors will be quite as enthusiastic, of course. But I think it’s a pretty low-cost investment, even as an experiment.
If you give it a go, let me know how it works out!