Donor Surveys are Great! But Should We Ask for?

Donor Surveys are Great! But Should We Ask for?

Genuine donor surveys are the most powerful tool in fundraising.  They are effectively a large, technological extension of your ears.  And few would argue that listening to individual donors about their motivations, needs and opinions is a bad thing.

Whether using the technology of social media, email, mail, phone or meeting donors face to face, getting information and using it to communicate with people is respectful AND effective.

I am not talking about focus groups, quantitative research or anonymous research.

And I am not talking about surveys or petitions designed to connect with people for the first time (nothing wrong with them – but that is not what I am talking about).

I am talking about finding out from individual donors THEIR wants and needs.  We can use this type of data for personalisation, making sure we communicate about relevant issues, and be asking them to be involved in relevant things.

I went to a webinar with Pamela Grow and Greg Warner recently, on this topic. Not surprisingly these great fundraisers love surveys too.  Pamela makes them work wonders for small organisations, and Greg has tons of awesome data on responses.

A charity survey I received from UNICEF


I love these surveys, and I am shocked by charities that haven’t enabled fundraisers to use them.  There is no reason I can think of to not conduct such surveys (at least by email, but preferably mail and beyond) every year.

They have a fantastic ROI (return on investment) through legacies, identifying major donors, personalising direct mail and even helping get monthly givers.

The only thing they don’t do is make you a cup of tea after your campaign has gone out.

But for many charities, if there is no ask for a donation in the letter or survey then there is a short-term cost.

If there IS an ask, charities will generate income straight away.  If it is a survey sent by a channel (mail, phone or email) to people who have donated through that channel it will likely make a profit too!

So why wouldn’t you ask for a donation in your survey?

Here are some that I received at home.

The last page of this Plan International’s survey has no financial ask…

But the Lost Dogs’ Home didn’t hold back.

Even without an ask, Plan International will have had some donations.  But the Lost Dogs’ Home will have raised more straight back with the survey.

When there is a financial ask to people who usually respond in that channel, between two-thirds and three-quarters of responders may include a donation, compared to less than one in ten when there is no ask.

However, the point of the survey is to get additional information from donors on how to communicate better with them, and, in particular, find those with the potential to really grow their giving – whether through legacies, major gifts or monthly donations.

So the question is: Will asking for donations with my survey reduce the chance of getting large donations later?

To have that effect, the financial ask would need to reduce response rate OR put off some key donors from making a large donation.

In Pamela and Greg’s webinar, Pamela said something like ‘There’s no reason to rush the ask to get $100 now when the goal is $100,000 later.’

However, it wouldn’t be just one $100 gift, it would be many people giving.  Each gift is increasing the commitment of each lovely donor.  How often people give is one of the best measures of loyalty – and the more often they give, the more likely they will give again.

And if I gave $100, would I not give $1,000 or $100,000 later on, if I could afford it and was asked properly?  It doesn’t reduce the chance of me giving a bigger gift, does it?

However, my biggest concern is with the way charities budget.  They tend not to invest in things that may pay off in the long term – no matter how much evidence Pamela, Greg or I show them that it will.

They are more likely to invest in their fundraisers using surveys properly if there is an initial return.

Whatever the answer to my questions about the pros and cons of a financial ask in a survey, a charity will do better mailing a survey with an ask than not mailing one at all.

But what do you think?  Please click here and answer MY mini survey (ironically, no financial ask in it!)

Thank you so much!

(Addendum: I spoke with Ben Holgate, fundraising boss at Plan. He told me Plan surveys usually have a financial ask but not to mid and major donors which is why I didn’t get a cash ask).

Examples featured are just packs that I received at home. The use of them in this article implies no endorsement of Moceanic or me by those charities!

  • Hilda du toit
    Posted at 10:44h, 07 February Reply

    We would be very hesitant to ask. Interesting read.

  • Gregory Warner
    Posted at 17:25h, 07 February Reply

    Thanks so much for mentioning the webinar Sean. We’ve found that nonprofits often get enough donations to pay for the survey effort (even with no ask). Then the legacy gifts uncovered and the leads generated for major gifts become the “icing on the cake”… and what tasty icing that is!

  • Niamh Ferris
    Posted at 18:46h, 07 February Reply

    Including an ask also re-enforces the need. For that reason I’d include it.

  • Tanya Carlyle
    Posted at 20:46h, 03 March Reply

    I’m all for doing an ‘ask’ but it important to remember that you can actually get some invaluable information from donors that can guide your fundraising strategy as well as great data for your program. It’s not just about making money out of the survey and it frustrates me when fundraisers think this is the sole purpose of doing a donor survey. You need to pay attention to what your donors are telling you!

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