Ask the Donor—Where Do Donor Surveys Fit in Your Work?


Are your donors satisfied?

Satisfaction with the development office is one of the major drivers of donor loyalty. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t talk about this. Even worse, most organizations don’t bother to find out.

Yes, I know: There’s too much other work to do. Organizations don’t have the resources to explore donor satisfaction. Blah blah blah.

But if you want loyal donors, how can you ignore the satisfaction thing?

The other day, I received a donor survey.

First, as a donor, I was pleased that the organization wanted my opinion. Second, as a fundraising professional, I was impressed that this organization was smart enough to reach out to its donors in this way.

It’s actually not that hard to survey donors.

If you’re smart, you’ll get a copy of Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value by Sargeant and Jay. Just use the questions in that book.

That’s what I did for a donor/member survey for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. And I included the survey in my book Keep Your Donors and in the online appendices for Strategic Fund Development, Third Edition.

If you’re smart, you’ll collect donor surveys. You’ll compare the samples with Adrian Sargeant’s research.

Maybe you could make a deal with a university professor—an expert in market research. That university professor could bring together a group of students for a special project. That professor might set up a graded internship for a student to work with you on this donor survey project.

However you do it, do it!

Ask your donors.


Examples of some useful questions to ask

  • How important are the following area(s) of XX’s work to you? For your response choices, use a Likert scale that moves from “not important” to “extremely important.” I used this question to help identify themes for direct mail solicitations and articles in the donor newsletter.
  • How satisfied are you with the following aspects of XX? For your response choices, use a Likert scale that moves from “Very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied.” And make sure to include a “no experience” choice.
  • How recently have you done the following at XX? I wanted to know if the donors had participated in various fundraising and relationship-building activities. For the Audubon Society survey, we all wanted to know if donors were participating in environmental programs, too.
  • One of my favorite questions from Building Donor Loyalty finds out the donor’s satisfaction with service. Things like:
    • Staff give me confidence in the organization.
    • Staff are always pleasant and courteous, competent and knowledgeable.
    • Staff give me individual attention.
    • The organization understands my specific needs.
    • And when I have a problem, the staff show an interest in solving it.

Trust is another major factor in donor loyalty. Building Donor Loyalty provides a great example for measuring trust.

  • To what extent would you trust X organization to undertake each of the activities listed? The Likert scale responses move from “low degree of trust” to “high degree of trust.” The trust areas include: Always act in the best interest of the cause. Conduct operations ethically. Use donated funds appropriately. Don’t exploit donors. Use fundraising techniques that are appropriate and sensitive.

Building Donor Loyalty also provides you with questions about relationship-building performance by the nonprofit. For example, how well do you do in these areas: Thanking donors for their gifts. Being polite in all communications. Informing the donor about how you’re spending donor money. Demonstrating that you care about the donor.

Maybe you think you’re doing well. But ask the donor.

Ask the donor. Ask questions about donor motivation. Ask donors where else they give. Ask donors about your communications. Ask donors about volunteering.

Ask your donors and you will learn important stuff. Then use what you learned.

Ask your donors. Because neuroscience says that people like to be asked their opinions. So just asking your donors is a great relationship-building strategy.

Don’t waste your time inventing your own questions—unless you are actually a market research expert. Just copy the expertise of others!

Great fundraisers have already read Sargeant and Jay’s book Building Donor Loyalty. Great fundraisers read Sargeant’s research.

Use his questions. Apply the learnings. Increase donor loyalty.

  • Pamela Grow

    Brilliant post (as always), Simone, and I couldn’t agree more. Surveying has got to be the single most underutilized tool in our industry.

    Thank you for the resources. Jonathon Grapsas of Flat Earth Direct also has a couple of phenomenal pieces up over on SOFII on surveying donors. I regularly survey my readers via formal surveymonkey surveying — and weekly via informal questions in my enews. Not only do you get feedback about what’s important to your donor in relation to your work, you can also use the surveying to gain a deeper understanding of who they are.

  • anonymous

    One thing I’d like to add … don’t survey your donors if you have no intention of listening. Granted, you can’t do everything that every donor suggests, but it is insulting to ask the donors their opinion if you have already made all of your decisions.

    I mention this because I worked at a place that did a donor survey. As you suggested, we worked with a local college marketing class on the analysis. One thing the majority of donors said is that they missed the newsletter that had been discontinued (replaced with an e-newsletter). Did we bring back the newsletter? No. The CEO said we were trying to recruit younger donors who would appreciate the e-newsletter. What a slap in the face to all the donors that had been supporting the organization and took the time to fill out the survey!

    BTW, this organization was always blaming the economy when donors quit giving.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thank you thank you, Anonymous. You are soooooo right. Be cautious about how you ask for opinions and feedback. Be clear about how you plan to use the opinions and feedback.

    For example: I avoid questions that offer the opportunity for donors (or anyone else) to tell the organization what to do. Because the organization may not think that aligns with mission or is unable to do it or — there are conflicts between all respondents. So I say things like: “Your response, combined with others, will help us decide our next steps.” Or something like that.

    I also make sure to share some of the results of surveys with the respondents. For example, include responses from the donor survey in the donor newsletter. And then tell people what you plan to do with the responses and what changes you plan to make and how the info was helpful … or whatever.

    Ah yes… The economic excuse for bad fundraising and donor retention. Ah yes… Some other excuse for not doing fundraising well and inadequate focus on donor retention. If only your statement weren’t as true as it is! Thanks again.