There’s no shortage of things the experts say fundraisers should be doing: handwritten notes, donor visits, thank you phone calls, bequest marketing; the list goes on and on.
It can be overwhelming when you’re bogged down planning an event that your leadership team insists on, or when you’re simply trying to justify your existence to the board.
However, there may be one tactic that can not only move the needle for your fundraising efforts, but also help increase productivity and prevent staff burnout: surveying donors regularly.
Not only does research tell us that soliciting donor feedback drives donor loyalty, but it can also generate data that helps fundraisers work smarter, not harder.
Here are seven ways that fundraisers are empowered when they start surveying donors regularly:
1. Prove to leadership that what you are doing is working.
Speaking of thank you phone calls and handwritten notes, have you ever struggled to prove the return on investment of those donor-centric activities?
When you ask donors how they feel about you over time, you’ll gather data showing that your outreach efforts are making an impact beyond or in conjunction with increases in revenue.
It can also help redirect management away from poor, irrelevant or misleading KPIs (key performance indicators).
For example, if they’re fixated on the fact that overall donors are decreasing, showing that commitment among current donors is increasing (which bodes will for increased revenue) can help calm them down.
2. Prove to leadership that you need additional resources.
Conversely, if you want to prove to leadership that there are reasons why your revenue is slipping, and that you need help, getting that data directly from current and former donors can prove invaluable.
Imagine going into a board meeting armed with data showing donor satisfaction, trust, commitment and intimacy are all dropping. Board members may be more receptive to proposed new hires or a change in strategy when they’re presented with more than just a gut feeling.
After all, good date leads to good strategic decisions, like setting the correct priorities and goals for your development team.
3. Predict future changes in donor retention.
We all know that measuring donor retention is important, but there’s no reason why you should be caught off guard when your retention rates change month to month, or year to year.
Knowing how donor affinity is trending can be a leading indicator of donor retention changes on the horizon, allowing you to plan and budget accordingly for the coming year.
4. Predict future changes in fundraising revenue.
Just as donor affinity can be a leading indicator of donor retention, so too can donor retention be a leading indicator of fundraising revenue. Knowing the first two data points equips you — better than anything else — to make a solid revenue forecast.
This doesn’t mean that an increase in one leads to an increase in the other; some donors will only want to give once (as is often the case for memorial and P2P gifts).
However, if you’re seeing a drop in affinity and retention, it’s safe to assume that your budget might tighten in the coming year.
5. Find gaps or missteps in your donor communications efforts.
There’s no reason for fundraisers to wander through the desert blindly.
Sending donor satisfaction surveys, and lapsed donor surveys specifically, can tell you exactly what donors like and do not like about how you’re communicating to them.
No more wondering if a certain way of doing things is working or not.
Are we mailing too much, or too little? Are we telling the right stories? Are we thanking fast enough? Are we targeting the right communities or personas?
One silver lining of donor attrition can be finding out why that donor lapsed, and fixing a problem before it costs you any more donors.
6. Prove to potential funders that you are a worthwhile organization.
Having data that shows your donors are highly satisfied and feel a strong sense of connection to your mission is one element of proving organizational sustainability to potential funders.
Imagine the leg-up you’ll have over other grant applications when you have data that few other nonprofits will have. Sending donor surveys and collecting donor affinity scores will put you in rarified air!
7. Create stronger relationships with your donors.
Honestly, this is the one and only reason you need to survey donors.
If you want to get serious about increasing donor retention, which increases lifetime value, which increases fundraising ROI, you need to find out how your donors feel about you.
Studies show that donors not only like to receive feedback opportunities, the serious ones expect it.
So stop wondering if you’re doing the right things, and find out if you’re doing the right things.
Are you surveying donors regularly? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!
Steven Shattuck served as the chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang for 10 years. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven contributed to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition.” He also supports the Association of Fundraising Professional's Fundraising Effectiveness Project, serves as an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media (2020).
You can find Steven Shattuck on LinkedIn