Talking to Donors. Talking to Other People Too

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Simone JoyauxTalk with them at your fundraising events and program activities. You, the staff, mingle and talk with donors and other guests. Your board members mingle and schmooze and talk with donors and other guests.

Go right up to someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself. Say hi. 

Yes, go right up to someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself. Say hi. Engage in conversation. This isn’t rocket science. And it isn’t a promo about your agency. It’s a conversation. Like you’d have at a party where you were just introduced to someone.

Listen to what they say. Watch their body language. People are sending you all kinds of messages. Pay attention and then make sure the office knows what you’ve learned.

Everyone can talk – and listen lots, to others.

Maybe you’re an introvert. Maybe you’re an extrovert. And for sure your staff and board colleagues are both. But each person can talk in some way—and listen lots, to others.

That’s the informal (but intentional and planned) conversations we all must have in various settings.

And then there are the formal (also intentional and planned) conversations that we devise. Think about focus groups, for example.

Ask a bunch of donors to come over for a focus group.

Conduct focus groups with donors every year. If you wish, consider different donor groups based on affinities, e.g., gender, generation, lifestyle, and so on. But you don’t have to do them that way. You can just ask a bunch of donors to come over for a focus group.

Conduct focus groups with prospects that have not yet been solicited. That could be interesting. Or how about a focus group with lapsed donors, if you could get them to attend?

Ask questions about their satisfaction with your service to them. Ask them why they give. Ask them what matters to them most. Check out some of the questions that I suggested in my previous column, Collecting Stories from your Donors .

Conduct a self-administered anonymous survey. Maybe conduct this survey every two to three years. Compare results over the years. Make changes accordingly.

Where do you find questions for a survey? Read the sector research. There’s so much out there. You might ask some of those same questions of your donors. Then you can compare yourself to the research results.

The survey was great. The responses were useful. We learned so much.

I really like the questions that Adrian Sargeant asked donors in his book Building Donor Loyalty, published in 2003. I used lots of Adrian’s questions in a donor survey a couple years ago. The survey was great. The responses were useful. We learned so much.

A great survey method is to use Likert scales, a type of question where respondents rate the extent to which they agree or disagree with a given statement. The Likert method of measuring attitudes is the most widely used scale in survey research.

This scaling method—called “bipolar”—measures either a positive or negative response to a question by offering exhaustive and mutually exclusive response categories. The response includes two positives and two negatives; and sometimes includes a neutral or “no opinion” choice. Typical Likert scale responses include:

  • Very good / Adequate / Inadequate / Very inadequate
  • Very good / Good / No opinion / Poor / Very poor
  • Strongly agree / Agree / Undecided / Disagree / Strongly disagree
  • Very good quality / Good quality / Uncertain / Poor quality / Very poor quality

Q.    How satisfied are you with the following aspects of … (the organization, the fund development program, whatever)?

You list answers with Likert scale responses. Why ask this question? The answers helped improve customer service.

Q.    Which of the following do you think are the two most important environmental issues facing Rhode Island? Please select         only two.

Why ask this? The answers helped develop newsletter articles and solicitations.

Q.    Which descriptions do you think best apply to XX organization? Please check all that apply.

The response choices included statements like: innovative organization, well-endowed financially, friendly, old-fashioned organization, one of the best organizations in our community, needs to raise significant charitable contributions to operation. Why ask this? The answers identified image issues that the organization needed to combat (or reinforce!)

Q.    As a donor, please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements.

And the statements were all about customer service as a donor.

Q.    How satisfied are you with the following donor services?

There you can list the various things you do with donors, e.g., recognition, thank you calls, thank you parties, the donor-centered newsletter, and so forth.

Focus groups. Interviews. Surveys. Just do it.

Start collecting donor surveys. Read Adrian Sargeant’s research and you’ll see his great questions. Read all the other great research out there and you’ll see the questions those researchers used. See Keep Your Donors, Appendix 10B, for my most recent version of a donor survey.

One final comment: Make sure you use a qualified research process and researcher to vet your questions and tabulate the responses and do cross tabs. You could recruit a marketing student as an intern. Or find a donor who works in market research and will help you out. Hire someone to do the work. Also, check out the web-based resources, but be careful. What’s your goal and can those products produce viable and valuable information?

Focus groups. Interviews. Surveys.

Talk with your donors. Talk with your lapsed donors. Just do it.

  • Laura Bragg

    Simone, great advice. I once worked for an organization that surveyed its alumni and donors, yet did very little with the data received! Honestly, they did not really appreciate the responses they received from alumni and reacted offended by some suggestions. I felt this was a poor use of research money. Had the organization been ’emotionally’ ready for some of the potential responses they were going to receive from alumni, they could have used the information for good. Instead, they just sulked and say, “poor us for having terrible alumni.” I appreciate how you simplify the process of talking to strangers at events. It is true, it really is that easy. I am always surprised to see Development staff afraid to talk to strangers and cultivate relationships.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thanks, Laura, for your comment. What a sad testament – that we are not “emotionally” or “practically” ready for feedback from our donors. If some business treated us, as customers, this way, we customers would rebel. And our donors will rebel, too. Wake up out there, organizations and fundraisers. No one owes you money. Just because you do good work (I hope), doesn’t mean you’re entitled to charitable contributions. No organization – no matter the cause – deserves donors. We earn donors. We earn the right to have donors. We build the loyalty of donors. Or not. Check out Tom Ahern’s upcoming e-newsletters featuring research by Adrian Sargeant. Check out Adrian’s research yourself. Pretty scary.