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Can Donor Surveys Really Help You Raise Money?

Can Donor Surveys Really Help You Raise Money?
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The answer my friends is a resounding YES!

Numerous studies reveal donor satisfaction is the single biggest driver of donor loyalty. According to world-renowned fundraising researcher Adrian Sargent, donors indicating that they were ‘very satisfied’ with the quality of service provided being twice as likely to offer a second or subsequent gift than those who identified themselves as merely satisfied. Sadly, few nonprofits measure it.  

Donor surveys are one of the least expensive ways you can improve donor retention, build deeper donor relationships, even uncover planned gifts!  

7 Things you can learn from a donor survey 

  1. Who your donors are (demographics)
  2. What programs, services, and/or beneficiaries they care about 
  3. How your donors prefer to communicate with you 
  4. How to segment your appeals based on donor interests 
  5. How satisfied your donors are 
  6. Which donors are good upgrade prospects
  7. Who are your planned gift (and major/capital gift) prospects (and who named you in their will!) 

So why don’t more people do it?  There’s a lot that can go wrong. 

The who, what, why of doing donor surveys


Why are you doing it? What do you want to learn? What will you do with the information? You need an action plan.


Who has buy-in? Who is the audience? Current donors? Lapsed donors? First-time donors? Mid-level donors? Major donors? Event attendees? Volunteers? Who will the results be shared with? 


What do you want to know? Why do our donors give? How do we better engage our donors? Are we showing our appreciation of our donors? Are we talking about our services appropriately?


How will you ask? What platform will you use to ask? How will you process the results? Who will do the work? How will you share the results? How will you record the results in your donor database to better serve your donors (event attendees, volunteers etc)? How will you follow up with people who participated in your survey? 

7 Pitfalls in Donor Surveys (and How to Avoid Them!) 

1. Asking donors preferences when you aren’t ready to honor them 

Nothing could be more detrimental to your donor’s satisfaction than asking them to take their valuable time to indicate their preferences (be it communication preferences or other) and you not fulfilling it. Bottom line: if you are not ready to segment based on your donor’s wishes, do not ask. Wait until you can honor their preferences and then survey them.        

2. Not having a clear goal, plan, budget, or staff resources 

Surveys demand staff resources to design, market, deliver, tabulate and handle responses.  

3. Not having leadership bought in 

You don’t want to be in the eleventh hour about to send out your survey when leadership steps in and decides they suddenly want to change the questions or you’re back to square one!

4. Not having well thought-out questions properly worded and tested

What are you asking? That depends on what you want to know. Do you want to know…why your donors give? How to better engage your donors? How you are doing at showing appreciation of your donors? Are you talking about your services appropriately? What you ask also depends a great deal on your audience. A survey of multi-year donors is very different than a survey of first-time donors. A post-event survey is very different than a lapsed donor survey.  

How you ask your questions will dramatically impact the success or failure of your survey. Are the questions easy to understand? Are the answers mutually exclusive? Are you asking a manageable amount of open-ended questions and do you have the staff resources to process the answers?    

5. Bad subject lines 

One of the most important parts of an online donor survey isn’t a question at all. It’s the subject line. If they aren’t inspired to open the email they’ll never take the survey. What email subject lines in your inbox inspire you to take a survey?  

6. Not being prepared to handle responses and do follow up 

If you don’t have the staff resources to follow up on responses and leads you aren’t ready to do a survey! 

7. Not being prepared to input what you learn into your donor database 

The greatest gift we can give our donors is the gift of being known by us. You took the time to ask. Your donors took the time to respond. Input their feedback results into your donor database and use it to segment and personalize your communications so you can deepen the donor relationship.  

Want to learn more about donor engagement surveys? I had the pleasure of teaming up with one of my fundraising idols Lynne Wester, The Donor Relations Guru to build a 3-part course loaded with guides, templates, tested techniques, a special survey clinic where we proof YOUR SURVEY, and 1:1 coaching time! Enroll now to get the magic formula to design surveys that drive donor giving and loyalty even if you have never created a survey before, don’t know where to start, or failed statistics in college. Learn more at  

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