Leveraging Surveys to Cultivate Donor Relationships

Fundraising communications are typically a one-way street where we are regularly asking our donors to support our mission while providing them with the latest information about how that support makes a difference.


But how often are we opening up that communication and giving our donors a voice?


Your donors are so much more than just a database of names – they are the reason you are able to accomplish and achieve your organization’s goals.


It can be easy to make assumptions about who your donors are and why they support your mission. But to effectively segment, message and interact with your donors, you need the data to back it up!


By simply asking your donors to complete a ‘quick, 3-minute survey’ you open the door to an abundance of raw data that is waiting to be collected and help inform your future strategies. And, you give this most valuable audience the chance to communicate back to you – showing them just how important they are to the work that they are supporting.


You might be thinking, “I don’t want to bother donors with asking them to answer questions. Why should I dedicate time and resources to build and distribute a survey?”


The fact is, people love to share information about themselves, have their opinions heard, and most of all, to feel valued.


Not only will a survey give insight into your supporters’ opinions, preferences, and motivations, but it also provides the perfect opportunity to cultivate donor relationships. Donors want to be involved in your organization and contribute to your success. Don’t be afraid of asking them to take just a few moments to complete a survey to help your cause.


But be prepared. You may uncover things you may not want to hear. You might discover that your donors are not satisfied with some aspects of your program, maybe they are looking for more transparency or feel you are contacting them too frequently (or not enough). Soliciting feedback on what is working and what is not enables you to prevent dissatisfied donors in the future and improve retention.  Though, one word of caution – don’t just take their word for it – before you change anything about the cadence of your communications to your audience test, test, test.


While a survey may not always answer all your questions, it can (and should) be used to guide program strategies going forward.


Before beginning to craft specific survey questions, ask a few top-line questions.


Why are you conducing a survey? Are you hoping to better segment your file? Are you looking for feedback on an event, or donor experience? What will you do with this information once you have collected the responses?

What are you hoping to learn? Do you want to know why donors support your mission? What they want to hear more of? How often they want to hear from you?

Who do you plan on surveying? Which segments of your file will you survey? Only active donors? Or maybe you want to try to reengage lapsed supporters?


Use this information to tailor your survey to fit your needs.


Surveys can be utilized across the board, either online or offline, at practically any time – depending on what you are hoping to learn.


Including a survey as a part of a Welcome Series after a donor gives their first donation is a great opportunity to gain insights into who your supporters are and why they chose to donate to your organization – and use that information to build subsequent communications through dynamic content. You should always ask participants and volunteers for feedback after an event, and surveys can even be leveraged to discover if donors are ready to become a monthly supporter or consider legacy/planned giving options.


While the content of a survey will vary depending on the circumstance, there are key best practices that will help yield higher response rates and increase the value of survey learnings.


Be transparent. Tell the supporter why you are asking them to take this survey, how long it will take to complete (hint: don’t make it too long!), and how you plan on using the results to improve your program – and support the mission that they care so much about. The best performing surveys are quick, easy, and enjoyable for the respondent.

Focus on the donor. Make it personal! As with typical fundraising communications, focusing on donor-centric language will resonate with the donor on a deeper level.

Avoid leading questions. Don’t guide the respondent to answer a question in a desired way. In order to ensure you have valid, effective data to analyze and act on, eliminate any bias in the question copy. Ask someone from outside of the involved group to take the survey to ensure wording is straightforward and easy to read and understand. A good survey question should be clear, direct, purposeful/relevant, and easy to complete.

Listen to your supporters. This is critical to keep in mind while developing a survey. If you ask donors how they would like to be contacted, and they request to not be contacted by phone – whatever you do, do not use that channel to contact this donor! Before setting up a survey, ensure you have the capabilities to adequately analyze responses and follow through on requests. Otherwise, this could end up hurting your donor relationships. And if you are polling your donor file, it’s a great idea to provide a feedback loop on how donors responded and report back to your audience in an upcoming newsletter or cultivation communication.


Providing an opportunity for your donors to engage beyond a donation, and discovering who they are, their preferences/opinions, and what they are most passionate about will not only help drive your overall strategy, but will also strengthen the donor relationship, engage your supporters, and demonstrate that you value their input, leading to improved retention and a healthier program.

Candice Briddell

Candice Briddell, Managing Partner and Co-Owner, has worked within the fundraising and marketing industry for nearly twenty years and has been a part of the MINDset team for over a decade. Prior to that, she was integral in the retention marketing program at AOL.