Every(Re)Action | 7 Techniques for Smart Donor Surveys

May 26, 2022 | Grace Duginski
Every(Re)Action: 7 Techniques for Smart Donor Surveys

Donor retention has long been a particularly pointy thorn in the side for nonprofit fundraisers. As the great demographic shift continues to take place—the large Baby Boomer cohort enters their final years as nonprofits’ primary donor audience, and the much smaller Gen X cohort rises to take Baby Boomers’ place—organizations will need to raise increasing amounts of money from smaller groups of people. In short: building and maintaining authentic connections with existing donors is only becoming more important.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a donor survey is one way to build relationships with your supporters—and that can help you retain them for the long run. Sean Triner, a cofounder of fundraising firm Moceanic, told the Chronicle that surveys are “the single most important tool in a fundraiser’s toolbox” due to their utility as a listening tool. The best surveys, he said, are “interested in what each and every donor has to say,” which is why organizations should “focus on finding out why [donors] care about your work and which aspects they value the most.” Those insights will help you understand their motivations for giving—and guide you in finding the right ways to inspire them to give again.

The Marine Mammal Center, an EveryAction client, views surveys in a similar way: Chief Development and Communications Officer John Warner told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that he recommends using a survey to “learn what people understand—and don’t—about your mission so you can assess and improve your communications.”

With these guiding principles in mind, here are seven of our favorite donor survey-related tips and tactics from the Chronicle—plus seven ways your nonprofit technology can give you the boost you need to get the most out of each one.

1. Make sure you can use what you learn

Before you hit send, the Chronicle recommends identifying what you want to learn and ensuring that once you gather the information, you have a plan to make it actionable.

Your organization should use these results to drive changes to your supporter engagement programs. It’s important to write your survey questions in ways that allow you to take specific action based on your findings. If you ask donors for their time and opinions, but don’t make any changes based on the responses you receive, you could risk annoying or alienating your audiences.

Take action: Make the most out of your survey results by tracking them in your CRM to easily access and leverage this information in future supporter messages.

2. Select your audience

Consider who you’re asking and don’t limit yourself to just existing donors, since Warner points out that “everyone is a prospective donor and evangelist.” Once you’re equipped with responses from a wide-ranging audience, it’s important to share that information with public-facing staff for both donor acquisition and retention purposes. The Chronicle notes, “using the feedback to ensure that those on the front lines of your work understand and talk about it effectively will help you build a pipeline of donors and keep existing ones.”

Take action: Use personalization and targeting capabilities in your CRM and email tools to ensure your supporters are receiving survey-related messages that make sense to them—for example, these ten tips for targeting planned giving donors can help you message that audience effectively, while your targeted messaging for retaining first-time P2P donors should probably look and feel different.

3. Choose the format

Digital channels can be a quick, effective, and affordable way to survey your supporters, says the Chronicle—especially when compared to direct mail surveys. Many organizations can easily incorporate a survey into existing digital strategies and campaigns.

However, just because digital channels are accessible doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is to completely cut out other channels from your survey efforts. Mail and the phone can help organizations dive deep into supporters’ opinions and access opinions that they might not otherwise share with you. The Chronicle reported that “in addition to sending its survey to all donors, the Marine Mammal Center held one-hour individual phone calls with 20 major donors to get deeper insights into what they knew about the organization.” TMMC felt that these calls “provided a really critical secondary ‘a-ha’ set of data to pressure test what [came] from the larger survey.”

Take action: Just as a multi-channel survey campaign strategy can work best to collect the highest number of quality responses from your supporter audience, your follow-up strategy should also be multi-channel! Testing and utilizing the channels your audience prefers can ensure they stay engaged with you long after your survey closes—download our Guide to Multi-Channel Program Management to learn more.

4. Ask people to give

Although when it comes to generating revenue, surveys aren’t often as successful as direct-mail appeals, the Chronicle notes that it can be worthwhile to include an ask for donations associated with your survey.

As our friends at Interactive Strategies say, “don’t ask, don’t get.” Put another way, it’s important to offer your supporters the chance to give where it makes sense to do so—for example, at the end of your survey. No one wants to overwhelm their audience with donation asks, but it’s worth remembering that your donors, volunteers, advocates, and other audience members feel your mission resonates with them, and they’ll usually welcome the opportunity to support your work.

Take action: Custom donation pages can help you make sure your forms are beautiful and on-brand—check out how EveryAction client Equality Florida partnered with 4Site Interactive Studios to customize their pages to give their donors a smooth and on-brand experience. Additionally, with form prefilling enabled, you can boost your results for your ask and avoid leaving money on the table—here at EveryAction, we’ve found that prefilled FastAction forms convert donors at a rate nine times higher than blank forms.

5. Decide when to send it

When it comes to choosing the right time of year to send your survey, the Chronicle recommends being strategic. As we established in the first tip, it’s important to make use of the results you gather—and sending out a donor survey in the middle of your busiest season, when you won’t have capacity to analyze and implement programmatic changes based on your results, might not be the best choice.

The Chronicle points out that if you send your donors a survey in July or August, this will give you enough time to implement your findings before year-end—and given that folks on the EveryAction platform broke our single-day email send record not once, but twice during 2021’s end-of-year season, we know year-end is an all-hands-on-deck time for many fundraising teams.

Take action: Your survey isn’t the only thing you should be revamping and launching in the middle of the year to have time to boost your year-end results—download our guide to year-end fundraising starting now for three proven techniques nonprofits can use to kick off planning for the busy season.

6. Ask questions that reflect what is happening in the world

One way to show supporters you’re genuinely interested in their thoughts is to demonstrate that your organization understands how the current moment and context affects how they’re thinking about your work. According to the Chronicle, one organization focused on helping underinsured people pay for health care surveyed donors during an earlier stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization “created two donor surveys that included questions about how people were feeling and how the organization could help. The answers helped the group make its outreach more personal and relevant.”

Organizations can also leverage technology when sending supporters content that’s relevant to the moment. Conducting multivariate testing—of subject lines, email content, even whole emails!—can help you identify which messages resonate with your supporters. And consider expanding beyond the written word when it comes to email content: in a recent study, IUPUI found that prospective donors responded better to a short video plus a short narrative than to the written word alone. It could be worthwhile to experiment and see what your audiences prefer.

Take action: Easily and quickly build beautiful emails for your multivariate tests with an email builder like Drag and Drop in Targeted Email. Make sure you’re going beyond open rates to measure success in any digital campaigns you use to promote your survey—with Apple’s Mail Privacy update affecting open rates, a functionality like EveryAction’s Machine Open Tracking can help you get a realistic idea of your email campaigns’ success.

7. Request contact information

Your survey is a great opportunity to take steps to ensure the data you have is supporting your goal of sending the right message, to the right contacts, at the right time. The Chronicle recommends including a request to add or update their contact information, which creates opportunities to expand the number of channels you can use to contact your supporters.

For example, if you’ve been considering adding SMS to your multi-channel communications ecosystem, you might start collecting opt-ins for supporters who’ve responded to and interacted with your content previously. You don’t need to launch a texting program tomorrow, but with opt-ins collected from supporters who were willing to share their opinions with you, you’ll be ready to take that step when the time is right.

Take action: Nonprofit staff spend time and energy getting every message just right—but it’s important to make sure donor records are accurate to be sure they’re receiving those carefully crafted notes. Stay in touch with your supporters, give them a smoother experience, and save staff time by offering them the ability to control and update their own information via self-service pages.

Proven techniques and strategies for donor surveys are valuable, and the technology your nonprofit uses can help you make the most out of every effort. Talk to us to learn more about how the right platform—built to serve nonprofits and social good organizations—can help you work more efficiently and raise more for your mission.