Five Ways To Maximize Your Donor Surveys

Chris Hughes

June 18, 2015

5waysHughesAccording to Blackbaud’s 2014 Charitable Giving Report, the combination of July and August represents the worst consecutive months on the calendar for charitable giving in the U.S.  In addition, August is statistically the worst month for giving to higher education.  It is reasonable to assume this is due in part to many June fiscal year end pushes and in part to donors’ traditional summertime expenses (vacations, getaways, kids camps, back to school sales, etc…).

Statistically, most (but not all) solicitations made between early-July and mid-August are probably not going to be as effective.  This makes the summer months a perfect time to perform cultivation activities like donor surveys! Note: if you don’t want to survey in July or August, the months of January through March are also top recommended times for donor surveys for the same reasons.

Here are five things you can do in order to maximize the impact and effectiveness of your donor surveys:

  1. Carefully define your goals and parameters
  2. Ask actionable questions
  3. Shorter with multiple choice > Longer with free form
  4. Make it worth the donor’s time
  5. Have a plan to implement lessons learned

Carefully define your goals and parametersquestionmarksmall

Before you embark on conducting a survey, or even writing the actual survey questions, ask yourself:

  • Who do I want to survey and why?
  • What do I really need to know from this specific group in order to improve our fundraising results?
  • How does conducting this survey help us achieve our strategic goals?

Defining your target audience as well as your survey needs will help create a more effective survey.  Not defining these items can lead to survey questions that have no impact on your fundraising program.  Tailoring your survey to a specific audience segment should yield more useful information, which in turn will yield stronger post-survey analysis and actions.

Ask actionable questions

Every question you ask on a survey should have a definable follow-up purpose and result in the best possible data for your organization.  You’re seeking donor feedback that can be incorporated into your fundraising program.  If the feedback isn’t actionable, why ask the question at all?  When developing your survey questions, ask yourself:

  • What am I going to do with this information?
  • Will I be able to use this information to enhance how we communicate with this donor segment?
  • Will this information directly lead to tangible evidence that we listened to our donors?
  • Does asking this question really matter?
  • Will asking this question give me insights that I don’t already know?

Shorter surveys with multiple choice > Longer surveys with free form

There are numerous survey styles and formats from which to choose.  While there is no single right-or-wrong answer to the survey type, our recommendation is to perform shorter surveys that incorporate multiple choice answers rather than a longer survey with free-form answers.  Some of the reasons for that recommendation include:

  • Multiple choice is more mobile friendly.  Approximately 67% of emails today are opened on a mobile device and answering multiple choice questions on a phone/tablet is much easier than typing responses.
  • Multiple choice is more quantifiable, which will clarify your donor preferences, and results are more immediate.
  • Multiple choice can be easily incorporated in multiple channels.  For example, your survey may start out electronic/online, but you may decide later to ask the same questions via the phone or a direct mail response form.
  • Long form responses may not actually answer the question you asked.  Donors may take the opportunity to vent about a topic, but not necessarily the topic in that particular survey question.

Shorter surveys usually result in sharper focus, better questions, and tend to be much more donor friendly.


Make it worth the donor’s time

Take off your fundraiser’s hat for a brief second and switch places with your donors.  When receiving a request to complete a survey (whether via email, phone, direct mail or social media), what would be the donor’s motivation to do so?  In today’s nonstop society, why should they want to take the time to respond?

Make the donor feel their time and effort to complete the survey was useful, appreciated and impactful.  Also consider incentivizing your survey responses.  Give the donor a reason to reply to the survey.  Maybe it’s something as simple as a decal or magnet mailed to respondents.  Maybe your campus bookstore can offer a discount coupon on branded merchandise.  The options are endless.

Incentives certainly add another layer to your survey process and overall donor cultivation, but should prove very beneficial as you move deeper into the fiscal year.  Even if you don’t offer tangible response incentives, you still need to prioritize making the donor feel their time was useful.  Find a way to simply say “thank you.”

Have a plan to implement lessons learned

No survey is useful if you don’t plan on implementing the lessons learned from the survey results.  Have a plan for analyzing your survey data as well as when you can apply this newly-found information.  It is likely that you won’t be able to put some things into practice until a few months after the survey, or in some cases even in the second half of your fiscal year.  Don’t be surprised when this happens.  In fact, we recommend planning for it.

You’ve spent a lot of time and resources developing your survey, and asked donors to give up part of their day to answer the survey.  Don’t let all that work go for naught.  Put those results to work.

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