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Using Donor Satisfaction & Commitment Surveys to Find Your Best Donor Prospects

donor satisfaction & commitment surveys
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Donor Satisfaction & Commitment Surveys

When my twins were toddlers and we played hide and seek they covered their eyes to hide. Or crawled under the living room rug. Not a great hiding place! They thought that if they couldn’t see me I couldn’t see them.  

As fundraisers, we often play an adult version of hide and go seek with our donors. We assume if we aren’t hearing anything bad from them everything must be okay.

When was the last time a company asked you to fill out a survey? Probably 5 or 10 minutes ago! I can’t buy a top from the Gap without being invited to take a survey or write a review. Great brands know the best time to fix a broken experience or magnify a good one is in the moment that it happens.

How often do you survey your donors? If you aren’t, you could be missing out on a golden opportunity to find your best planned gift prospects, dramatically deepen your donor relationships, boost their loyalty, raise more money and even secure gifts in the process.  

Why survey donors on satisfaction and trust?

If I asked you what you wanted more, a large gift or winning your donor’s trust, it might be tempting to choose the gift. According to Michael Rosen, author of Donor-Centered Planned Giving, “it’s the level of trust that one has in a charity and it’s representatives that impacts willingness to give and the amount given.”  

Author and world-renowned fundraising researcher Adrian Sargent discovered that satisfaction is the single biggest driver of donor loyalty. Yet hardly anyone measures it. In his research, donors who rated themselves as “very” satisfied were twice as likely to give than donors who were merely satisfied. He found increasing satisfaction by 1 point increased the likelihood of gift by half point.

donor satisfaction & commitment surveys

Sample Donor Satisfaction Survey Questions

Satisfaction Questions

I was thanked appropriately for my gift to (insert charity name).

Overall, I am satisfied with how I’ve been treated.

I believe I’ve done the right thing in supporting (insert charity name).

Commitment Questions

I care passionately about the work of (insert charity name).

My relationship with (insert charity name) is something that I am very committed to.

My relationship with (insert charity name) is very important to me.

(Insert charity name) is working to achieve a goal that I care passionately about.

Trust Questions

(Insert charity name) has a very high level of integrity.

(Insert charity name) can be counted on to do what is right.

I trust (insert charity name) to deliver the outcomes it promises for its beneficiaries.

Tips for crafting donor surveys  


  • Use donor-centered language
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms
  • Introduce the survey with what you’ll do with the information and how it helps, i.e. “Only with your feedback, Rachel, can I truly know how to better communicate with you.” “Rachel, you’ve been invited to take this survey because you’re an important member of our donor family.”    
  • Ask “Is there anything else you’d like us to know?” There may be something your donor wants to share that you haven’t asked.   
  • Invite them to answer if they’ve named you in their will or estate


  • Make your donors complete every single survey question to submit the survey.
  • Ask when or how much their last gift was. They may not get it right and you already have this information in your donor database.
  • Waste a question asking anything you already know.
  • Forget to ask their name or email

Should I make it anonymous or not?

It depends on the survey and your goals. If you are doing a donor engagement survey you need to be able to track responses to each donor and follow up, especially if you invite them to share any planned giving decisions they may have made.   

Should I online, offline or both?

You will get a higher response rate if you do both. A direct mail survey is similar in look, feel size and scope to an appeal package. An online survey should be mobile optimized, brief (5-10 questions) and user-friendly with a simple layout (such as a BuzzFeed style quiz you might take on Facebook). Ideally, it can integrate into your CRM.

Are you ready to do a donor survey?

You are ready if…

  • You have a clearly stated goal, budget, and timeline for your survey
  • You have adequate staffing resources
  • You have well-thought-out questions you’ve tested
  • You are prepared to thank your respondents
  • You are prepared to handle responses, do follow up and cultivate leads
  • You are prepared to input what you learned to segment your donor communications

The biggest mistake people make in online surveys  

Can you guess what it is?  The subject line! You’ve got one goal with this email – GET IT OPENED! If they don’t open it you’ll never learn anything. An eye candy survey with great questions can’t overcome a bad subject line. What are great subject lines? I’ll give you a hint “Take our survey!” isn’t one of them! What will work best for you? Look at your prior email subject lines. What got you the highest open rate? Test, test and then test some more. The highest performing email subject line I saw on a survey was sent by a disease organization trying to learn more about their constituents. It asked simply “Who are you?” I use this free tool to test my subject lines and it rates them for readability, mobile optimization and passing through spam filters. What email subject lines inspire you to take a survey? I keep a google doc of my favorite subject lines from emails I get.

How often should I survey?

As frequently as you can manage but at least once a year.  

Can you ask for a gift in your survey?

Yes, you can! Many charities include a reply device in an offline survey or have a pop up donate box in an online survey.    

Surveys are proven to be effective in measuring a constituent’s satisfaction, commitment, intimacy, and trust for the organization. They provide a vehicle for constituents to make their voices heard, while also offering organizations invaluable information regarding how they are perceived by their constituents.

So what are you waiting for? Get those surveys out the door!

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  • Rachel Muir

    Katie, here's another resource that you might find helpful! This is a free webinar with Rachel Clemens on donor surveys coming up August 29th:
  • Rachel Muir

    Thanks for your question,Katie! Testing survey questions is just as important but I'm afraid it's more complex than testing a good subject line. There can be a lot of pitfalls if you poorly word a question so your donor doesn't understand it, ask leading questions, have answers that mean vastly different things to different audiences, or use measurement variables that skew results (i.e. if you use a 1-5 scales and take an average). The best advice I can offer is to craft a survey and test it with people outside your office. Be brief, write clear questions, incentivize and test. Here are more great resources on surveys: Sample Surveys and additional resources
  • Katie Peterson

    Thank you for a great introduction on how to survey our constituents. The link to email subject testing is a great tool. How does one "test" survey questions?
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