How Donor Surveys Can Be A Secret Weapon

Windmill Hill Consulting Donor Survey
Windmill Hill Consulting Donor Survey

The start of the year is a fresh start, a blank page on the fundraising calendar. And with new beginnings comes an opportunity to connect with donors through the powerful tool of a survey. After the holiday campaign frenzy, the lull that tends to follow creates a perfect space for genuine and insightful conversation with those who choose to support your mission.  

There’s truly no better time to learn what donors might be thinking. Kicking the year off with a survey shows supporters that we value their opinions and want to understand their needs. After being inundated with donation requests in the final months of the year, prioritizing stewardship is important to keep building trust and strengthen relationships with our donors. 

It’s also early enough that donors are contemplating their annual giving plans and deciding which causes they’d like to support. Sending out a survey can help foster renewed commitment to your organization. Not to mention, learnings from your survey can help inform your messaging plans, identify new opportunities, and hopefully avoid potential pitfalls. 

Donor surveys are much more than just collecting data. What can they help us understand?

  • What resonates. Discover which aspects of your work ignite the most passion and spark the desire to give. What part of your program does your donor care about the most? Is there a certain staff or board member of the organization that they really like to hear from?
  • Why donors give. What is driving donors to care about your cause? Are they driven by personal experiences, a sense of community, or a desire for global impact? Knowing their motivations will allow you to tailor your appeals to their deepest values.
  • Donor satisfaction. Are they happy with your organization’s work? Do they feel their contributions are making a difference? Addressing any concerns or dissatisfaction proactively can prevent donor churn.
  • Areas for improvement. No one is perfect. Surveys give you the invaluable opportunity to identify areas where you can better serve your donors and the cause you both deeply care about advancing. Feedback on communication, event experiences, and volunteer opportunities can be key to making impactful changes.
  • Untapped potential. Are there certain avenues or opportunities you haven’t explored? Perhaps your donors are interested in volunteering, participating in advocacy campaigns, or even hosting fundraising events. Surveys can reveal these hidden desires, and encourage you to try something new.

Okay, so we know why surveys are important. But how do we get them started?

First and foremost, surveys should be a conversation, not an interrogation. It could be worthwhile to segment your groups, based on capacity and what type of insights you’re looking to gain. For example, lapsed donors could be in one group, while sustainers and midlevel could be in another. Determine what you’re hoping to learn from each type of donor to maximize their role within your organization. 

But as general best practice, stick to the following guidelines when working through your survey:

Keep it short and sweet: Simple, targeted surveys with clear questions that directly relate to your organization will generate better response rates and actionable data. 3 to 5 questions is sufficient and easy for donors to answer.

Offer anonymity, but encourage engagement: Give donors the freedom to be honest, but provide avenues for further dialogue. Open-ended questions can result in valuable insights and personal connections. Ask if they’d like to be contacted to hear updates about your work or to answer questions they may have.

Tailor your messaging: Speak directly to your donors’ motivations and concerns. Craft the questions around things that resonate with their values and address their specific interests. 

Show gratitude and follow through: Thank your donors for their time and feedback. Share the results, outlining how you’ll incorporate their insights into your future endeavors. This transparency builds trust and strengthens the donor-organization bond.

Unlock new giving avenues: Consider asking if your donor has preferred donation methods. Offer online options for the more tech-oriented and offline channels for those who prefer a more personal touch. Ask the donors when they’d like to be solicited and be sure you note that in your CRM so you can solicit them when they’re ready to make a gift.

Invite a dialogue: In addition to hearing from your donors about their story, sometimes it’s also nice to invite survey participants to share a personal reflection or a word of encouragement to those whom you serve. 

Your survey should be easy to complete, and not take more than 5 minutes. Offer a mix of question types, including multiple-choice, open-ended, or Likert scale questions. Clearly communicate the purpose of the survey, and how you will use the feedback. And most importantly, show appreciation for their time and efforts!

All in all, donor surveys aren’t just another fundraising tool; they’re a vital communication channel, a bridge of understanding, and untapped knowledge waiting to be discovered. By listening to your donors, learning from their feedback, and translating that knowledge into action, you can unlock a new level of engagement, strengthen your donor relationships, and ultimately begin a strong and bright fundraising journey into 2024.




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