How do you take a donor survey from being a mundane data-collecting exercise and turn it into a powerful charity-building opportunity? The answer, as I’ve found from overseeing the development of over 500 donor surveys at Donor Republic, is getting your priorities right from the very beginning. 

With the right planning, a personalised approach, and excellent follow-up, donor surveys can become incredible tools for building strong relationships with donors, growing charity programs and influencing change. Here are my 10 tips.

Plan and prioritise

1 Determine the goal of your survey It is essential to decide whether the priority is response rates or fundraising income. If you want to elevate survey responses, have a soft ask, or use no case studies. If you want a balance of responses and cash, include a case study and ask. 

2 Plan your questions well before sending out your survey It’s important to plan the questions carefully, thinking about why you need them, and how you will use the responses.  

3 Consider your strategic fundraising intent If your charity is new to acquisition, keep the survey generic to learn as much as possible about donors. If the objective is to grow middle or major donors, load the survey with middle/major donor questions. If the goal is to grow gift in wills (GIW), leverage GIW-related questions. Strike a balance in all program areas or personalise the survey questions based on the segments. 

Personalise, integrate and incentivise

4 Personalise your messaging Both in the survey and in all future communications, make sure you personalise as much content as possible — even if you think you are overdoing it, you are not. Surveys are a great way to learn more about donors, which will help you create even more personalised messaging, leading to deeper engagement and stronger connections.   

5 Incentivise the survey One of the best ways to increase response rates is to incentivise your survey. Consider adding a gift pack valued at $500 or $1000, either from a corporate partner or relevant to your cause. This can also be an opportunity to build corporate partner offerings. 

If your charity is new to acquisition, keep the survey generic to learn as much as possible about your donors.

Integrate print and digital Many charities still treat digital surveys as an afterthought. Try creating a digital version for donors, depending on the content/journey they have been on, which might not be relevant to direct mail donors.

7 Integrate a smaller rolling survey Consider incorporating a smaller rolling survey into the onboarding program to build personalisation into the program to support stronger donor engagement. 

Capture and follow-up

Capture all data into a CRM Ensure that all data from the survey is captured into a CRM or hosted by a data storage agency. Responses should be stored on privacy compliant platforms and integrated into the charity’s appeals and communications. 

9 Develop follow-up survey questions For donors that have previously sent back surveys, develop a second, third, fourth and fifth round of survey questions. Don’t send donors the same questions each year as it could cause frustration and convey that your charity is not listening to their responses. 

10 Report survey response trends Share the survey response trends in your next donor newsletter, demonstrating how your charity has responded to feedback. This demonstrates that your charity is listening and responding to donor needs. Such trends and insights can also be useful to report back to the board and/or government bodies. 

Creating an effective donor survey means taking the time to plan well, connecting with donors in personal ways, and using the data you receive to build relationships and strategic plans for the future. 

If you’d like to learn more or are interested in developing a donor survey that brings significant results for your organisation, get in touch to discuss our process at Donor Republic and see whether partnering with us might be a good fit for you. 

In 2016, Andrew Sabatino co-founded Donor Republic, which has grown to be the most sought-after fundraising and marketing agency in Australia and New Zealand. Donor Republic currently supports over 84 inspiring charities and organisations.