Donor Surveys 101: Getting nonprofit feedback

March 11, 2024
5 minutes
Portraits of four donors of different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Each of them is smiling sincerely, ready to support the causes they believe in.

Hey, fundraiser! How well do you know your donors? If you're a major gifts officer, you might know your donors pretty well from all the one-on-one time you get with them. If you're managing a small-dollar donor program that has hundreds or even thousands of donors, chances are you may not know your donors very well. Sure, you have access to their giving data, which can provide you with some useful insights about your donors. But there's a lot to know beyond giving data!

Take a minute and imagine that you could take any of your donors out for a coffee (spoiler alert: you totally can!). What would you ask? What would you want to know about their giving and philanthropy? These questions can provide you with deeper insights about donors' preferences and motivations, and, fundraising friend, that helps you be a savvier fundraiser whose fundraising efforts are supremely successful!

Back in the real world, you probably don't have the time or budget to take allllll of your small dollar donors out for a coffee. What's your next best option? Sending out a donor survey! In this article, we're covering the ins and outs of executing effective donor surveys to get valuable feedback with a spectacular response rate.

Hold Up. Nonprofits Send Out Donor Surveys?

You bet they do! Donor surveys are a popular tool that allow fundraising and communications staff to get to know their donors better. These surveys can be conducted online (using tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms) or sent to donors in the mail. We've even heard of a few nonprofit organizations doing phone surveys.

Every donor survey is a little different in terms of the length and donor survey questions that are asked, but in general, you're just trying to get to know their supporters a little better. Surveys are also a chance for your nonprofit to gauge donor satisfaction, which can give you insights for cultivation and stewardship. Talk about a win-win for everyone!

So How Do I Get Started With Donor Surveys?

We're so glad you asked! Donor surveys don't have to be a complicated project for your nonprofit. To keep it simple and effective, we've got a couple of quick-start steps for you to follow.

  1. Identify your audience
  2. Set a goal
  3. Choose a tool

Step 1: Decide Who's Getting the Survey

You may be thinking, “well all our donors, duh!” and kudos to you if you want to send this survey to your entire donor file. But also... you don't have to take that approach. Instead, send a targeted survey to specific donor segments, like your monthly donors or even planned giving prospects. You may want to suppress your major donors from any automated outreach. Donor relationships like that are strengthened by personalized communications. 

Pro Tip: You can even reach out to potential donors to find out what they'd need to see in order to begin giving. Then, incorporate those survey responses into your fundraising strategy.

Step 2: Set a Goal for Your Survey

We're big fans of goal-setting and surveys are no exception. For your nonprofit to make the most of this research opportunity, you'll want to set a goal for the survey. In other words, what are you hoping to learn? There may be multiple things you want to learn from your survey, but it's better to stay focused on one key goal that you can build your questions around. Otherwise, you'll end up with a 30+ question survey and ain't nobody got time for that.

Step 3: Pick a Survey Tool

Similar to the way your donation process, and specifically your donation form, are crucial to donation conversions, the logistics of your survey are important, so think about them early on. The biggest driver of your decision should be your donors. How are they used to hearing from your nonprofit? For instance, if they usually receive snail mail and you decide to use an online survey tool via their email address, expect to see lower survey response rates.

No matter which survey tool you pick, here are a few things to consider:

  • How will the survey be delivered to donors?
  • How will donors complete the survey?
  • If a direct mail survey needs to be mailed back, will you include a reply device?
  • Do you need any extra tools to follow up with non-responders?

Okay, I've Done My Homework. What's Next?

Gold star for you! It's time to dive into the fun part—crafting the questions you'll ask on your survey. The questions you ask in the survey will directly impact the quality of the insights you get from your survey. So… putting in the extra time to create clear, useful questions is worth it. You'll want to ask some open-ended questions as well as questions that require donors to pick one answer. You'll also want to ask a mix of questions that touch on donors' demographics and psychographic.

As Andrew Olsen, Sr. VP of Fundraising Solutions at DickersonBakker said on the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast,

"One of the best ways to learn about your supporters is through donor surveys... actually asking donors what motivates them. What part of your mission is most exciting to them? Why they first gave? If there's anybody in their life who's encouraged them to be generous. Capturing that data is almost table stakes for development."

Ready for some question inspiration? Here's a list of questions to get your wheels turning. (And notice how loooong this list is! Don't send this interrogation to your donors; we're begging you.)

  • How old are you?
  • Where do you live?
  • Are you married or single?
  • What is your occupation?
  • What's your household income level?
  • How long have you been giving to our nonprofit?
  • What motivates you to donate?
  • Do you have a specific program or service that you prefer to give to?
  • Agree or disagree: I felt thanked and appreciated after making my most recent gift.
  • Agree or disagree: Our nonprofit provides you with satisfactory updates about your impact as a donor.
  • In your opinion, what could we do better or differently to update you about your impact?
  • How do you prefer to hear from our nonprofit?
  • Do you read our donor newsletter?
  • What do you enjoy most about our donor newsletter?
  • What do you enjoy least about our donor newsletter?
  • Do you volunteer with our nonprofit?
  • Have you attended any of our fundraising events?
  • What did you think about our fundraising events?
  • How likely are you to donate to our nonprofit in the future?
  • Have you told friends or family about your donations to our nonprofit?

Again, remind yourself (and your board or ED or whoever thinks this is The Way) that you do not and should not ask every single question listed above. You want your survey to take less than 5 minutes for donors to complete. That means you're likely asking between 5 to 12 questions. Choose wisely and keep your survey goal in mind.

Once you've got your survey questions selected, put them into your survey tool and get ready to drop that survey in the hands of donors. But, before you send out your survey, make sure you have a plan to follow up with donors who fill out the survey. You'll want to thank them, for sure! Some nonprofits even do a little report back with what they learned from the survey and how it will improve the donor experience.

Donor surveys can help you gather a lot of useful insights about your donors. Take the time to craft a quality survey and have a plan to market that survey for maximum participation. You'll be on your way to a better donor experience in no time!

Donor Feedback FAQ

What is the purpose of a donor survey?

The purpose of a donor survey is to gain insight into the attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of donors in order to better understand their motivations for giving. It also serves as a way to measure satisfaction with the charity’s services and stewardship and identify areas for improvement. A donor survey can provide invaluable data that can be used to engage potential donors, retain existing ones, and foster long-term relationships.

What are some donor survey best practices?

When creating a donor survey, it is essential to adhere to best practices in order to get the most out of the survey. Here are some key best practices for conducting an effective donor survey:

1. Set Clear Objectives: Before starting a donor survey, it is important to clearly define what the goals of the survey are and why it is being conducted.

2. Keep it Short: Donor surveys should be as concise as possible, with questions that can be answered quickly and without too much thought.

3. Ask Compelling Questions: Once the objectives have been established, create questions that are relevant to the goals of the survey and will provide meaningful insights.

4. Offer Multiple Response Formats: To make answering the survey easier, offer multiple response formats such as multiple choice, open-ended questions, and rating scales.

5. Follow up: The worst thing you can do is ask someone for their opinion and then not thank them, not take any action, and not address any issues they've brought up. Don't be that person.

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