How to Make Your Donor Surveys More Successful

If there’s one universal truth about us humans, it’s this: We just want to be heard.

With social media, 24/7 news, the dinner table with countless opinions and asks—talk comes from all angles these days. In the midst of all that cacophony, however, is a core need: to be heard.

Planned giving donor surveys offer respondents the opportunity to be heard for the benefit of others. Best for you, surveys shed light on what people may need (but are not ready to ask outright) to move the needle from a one-time or annual gift to a legacy or planned gift.

Nonprofits that take the time to listen and take action based on survey feedback also receive the bounty of valuable, substantive information about how to better align donors’ planned giving “dreams” with real-time and future organizational aspirations.

THINK IT THROUGH: Surveys aren’t lip-service or a do-it-because-the board-asked-us-to task. Send them with true intent about wanting to know what your audience is thinking and wanting to see changed. Whatever the subject, if you’re not prepared operationally to handle the results, wait until you have the pieces in place or the know-how to respond in a timely manner.

TALK IT THROUGH: Communicate survey results to donors, staff and influencers, even if the data might be uncomfortable or doesn’t reveal much. In other words: disclose the good, the bad and the boring.

Using an Online Survey?

If it feels overwhelming, fear not. User-friendly and affordable digital survey tools can help maintain order and simplify the feedback process. Here are some DIY online survey options:

  • Google Forms—consistently tops the list of survey tools among fundraising pros. It’s free and collaborative, so others on your team can work on it too.
  • Survey Monkey—another popular option. Note that there is a 10-question limit for 100 people with the free version.
  • Constant Contact—yet another nonprofit-friendly solution. They advertise a free 60-day trial and prepay discounts for nonprofits.
  • Explore other online survey options.

Tips for Better Surveys

1. First time out? Start small. Dip your toe into surveying with a 30-second survey. Ask a few targeted yes or no questions. Not all surveys have to be formal with multiple Q&As. In fact, longer surveys tend to put people off. (“I don’t have 5 minutes right now to fill this thing out!”) But a succinct survey (or poll) allows them to quickly engage and feel fulfilled, like they did their part.

2. Keep it short. Have no more than 20 questions on any survey, with yes/no options, multiple choice, checklist options or other closed questions that elicit an either/or answer. If you plan to use a comments or other open-ended response feature, use only one for every 10 questions. More than 20 questions? Back to the drawing board to re-evaluate by asking yourself if you really need all of them. If so, consider splitting them into multiple surveys.

3. Mix it up with some fun. As one fundraising pro put it, not every survey needs to answer a Very Serious Question. A lighthearted touch can go a long way to building affinity with donors. It shows you, too, are human and have a sense of humor and heart, so when you do ask the serious questions, respondents will be more likely engage.

4. Watch your words. Surveying about planned giving can be tricky. Use your words wisely with language that emphasizes permanence or a donor’s lasting impact. Prof. Russell James, III, offers a great example of a planned giving survey Q&A that likely stirs answers—and hopefully gets respondents thinking more about creating their legacy with your nonprofit. Here’s an example of language from his presentation that showcases planned giving in a more positive light:

Please rate the importance of the following areas of work at Acme Environmental Charity:

Purchasing new, sensitive land areas to protect them for future generations.

Permanently conserving sensitive wetlands areas.

Educating younger generations about the importance of enduring environmental conservation.

Notice the words and phrases used here allude to a planned gift: enduring, permanently, future generations. Others: to create a lasting impact, your forever gift, to preserve what you value.

5. Measure twice, cut once. In other words, test your survey before sending it. Because if there’s a mistake, you can’t take it back after sending. Read your survey aloud to ensure questions flow; have co-workers complete the survey and give feedback for improvement; also, test the survey over multiple web browsers and devices to ensure the survey can be read and answered easily.

BOTTOM LINE: Surveys build conversation and connection between you and your donors. They’re like a “What do you think?” or pathway into a deeper planned giving conversation.

Speaking of surveys… We’re always thinking about ways to make our blog’s content more relevant to our readers. We want to hear from you! Take our survey to share your feedback—we would really appreciate it.

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