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Rounding Out Your Year-End Campaign with a Donor Survey

The end of the year is approaching, and many nonprofit organizations are ramping up their fundraising efforts by conducting comprehensive giving campaigns. This may include direct mail appeals, a series of mass emails, a few Facebook posts, a handful of virtual events and many phone calls to get donations in by year-end. In this push to meet your goals for the year, the individual donor might start to feel inundated and confused with too many options. So, how can we make them feel more comfortable, more involved and most importantly – more appreciated?

The answer is simple. Send a donor survey. Donor surveys are a crucial tool in understanding your donors’ motivations to give, as well as an opportunity to gain invaluable insight into how your organization is doing from an outside perspective. A proverbial temperature check if you will – allowing you to gauge giving attitudes and increase engagement from your top supporters.

Why should an organization send a donor survey?

The potential for a donor survey is limitless. A donor survey can help you plan events, decide what types of marketing are worth a place in the annual budget, discover communication preferences, obtain valuable feedback and so much more. You can even identify what types of giving vehicles may be most beneficial to donors with specific needs.

Need feedback on a recent seminar you hosted? Ask your donors! Wondering if print pieces are worth the cost? Ask your donors! Fundraisers are often uncomfortable asking for direct feedback in person or on the phone, so a printed or emailed survey is a great option. Even this can cause concern and you might wonder “Am I asking too much of my donors?” I hear you. Surveys can strengthen relationships with donors. You are telling them that their opinion matters, while gaining an understanding on what works and what does not work.

Why should an organization send a donor survey during fall or year-end?

Historically, year-end is a time to evaluate the success of your organization, making it the perfect opportunity to send targeted surveys that will help you gauge the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Generally, it is recommended not to survey the same group more than twice in a calendar year. The spring and fall tend to be popular times for these communications for several reasons. Spring is tax season and folks are preparing to go on summer vacations, many donors get their affairs in order during this time. Many fundraising and alumni-type events also happen in the spring. Fall works well as long you get the most important messaging out before the Thanksgiving holiday, which tends to kick off a busy season focused on spending time with family and escaping the winter weather.

In addition, National Estate Planning Awareness Week is celebrated every October. So, why not send out a survey regarding the estate planning needs of your constituents? You may even close a planned gift as a result or identify a few individuals who have already included your organization in their estate plans.

Should the survey be anonymous?

Ultimately, it depends on your goal for the survey. If you are simply looking for honest feedback, an anonymous survey could be the way to go. However, a donor survey that collects response data for you is a great opportunity to promote personal contact with your donors. While we hope that all feedback will be positive, you may receive some negative comments from time to time and a non-anonymous survey will allow you to follow up to get additional information. In an anonymous survey, you also will not have a good frame of reference for respondent concerns, so you cannot be completely sure of the whole picture. On the flip side, you are not able to thank anyone for their positive feedback if you do not know who they are.

Studies suggest that non-anonymous survey respondents are more likely to provide additional detail as opposed to anonymous respondents. Therefore, it seems that your data may be more precise and, in turn, more valuable if the survey is not anonymous.

What types of questions should I ask?

Your questions should relate to the target audience. If you send out an electronic survey to your most loyal donors, you can lead with the fact that you recognize their loyalty and that their feedback is especially important to you given their history with the organization. This makes it personal. You will also want to ask why they have been such loyal donors and what areas of your mission they are most interested.

Ask donors if they are interested in upcoming events, how they prefer to communicate with you or simply check in on them. Be ready to act on it! A survey is meaningless if you are not willing to make changes according to the feedback you are receiving. So, make sure you allocate enough time and resources to do so.

You also want to pay special attention to the order of your questions, making sure that each one flows cohesively to the next. A good variety of question types can be used, varying from multiple choice to “yes or no” questions to open-ended prompts. It is always helpful to wrap up the survey with an open-ended question so that a donor can share any lingering thoughts with you.

Lastly, avoid long surveys. You risk losing out on thoughtful responses when you ask too many questions. The goal should be to complete the survey within five to ten minutes.

How can a donor survey help grow my planned giving program?

Surveys can help you grow your legacy society! We are often asked how an organization can better capture gift information. In a survey, you can directly ask if a donor has included your organization in their estate plan and invite them to join your legacy society. It gives them the option to self-identify and gives you the chance to build a better relationship. You can also use a donor survey as a tool to continually engage with current legacy society members. Donor surveys can also uncover new donor prospects. You may ask questions that allow donors to pinpoint what types of gifts they are interested in or offer an estate planning guide. Then, follow up with respondents to continue the planned giving conversation.


Rounding out your end-of-year campaign with a survey keeps the focus on your donors and sets you up for another successful year ahead.  Have you sent out a survey? What questions did you find to be the most helpful? Share in the comments below.

Kate Bailey

By Kate Bailey
Legacy Campaign Specialist, Crescendo Interactive, Inc.

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