Donor Surveys are Great! But Should We Ask for Money?


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.

We call these ‘Supporter Connection Surveys’.

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.

2016 09 19 Unicef supporter survey whole pack Page 1

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…

donor surveys are great 2

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

donor surveys are great 3
Even without an ask, Plan International will have had some donations.

The Lost Dogs’ Home will have raised more straight back with the survey.

(Plan’s didn’t have an ask because I was in a group of donors selected to not receive an ask, but it is useful for illustrative purposes!)

When there is a financial ask to people who usually respond in that channel (i.e. direct mail), 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 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.

Check out our Supporter Connection Survey Course in The Fundraisingology Lab if you would like to learn what makes your donors tick.

Thank you so much!


PS.  Jeff and I recorded a video chatting about asking in a survey.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Great post Sean. Keep in mind that usually our clients are already sending the surveys to the most loyal donors. So again, I just don’t feel it’s necessary to add more salt to the meal go gain a few bucks. The goal of the kind of survey we recommend is to generate leads for major and legacy giving and/or uncover previously undisclosed legacy gifts that have been kept secret— not to garner donations.
    Let’s forget the dollars and stats for a minute. Here’s the big reason why I don’t think there should be an ask along with a survey: I don’t think it’s fair.
    Yep. I don’t think it’s fair to survey someone and ask for money at the same time. I think many donors like me will feel that the survey wasn’t provided because the organization and its fundraisers really care about me and want to learn about me. No, I’ll feel that they gave me a survey to coax me into making a donation. I’d feel used.
    In major and legacy gift fundraising a much longer consideration process needs to be recognized. Relationships need to be built. Asking for a donation as you begin that process is kind of like asking someone to go to bed with you before you’ve had a chance to get to know them. It’s “icky”!

  • Sean Triner
    April 7, 2017 3:31 am

    Thanks Greg, very first comment on our website ever!

    Ken Burnett would agree I am sure, though in a recent LinkedIn comment he concluded with ‘It depends.’

    But this is why I don’t agree we should always rule out a financial ask…

    1) Most charities don’t do surveys. They are more likely to do one if they could recover the costs. And it means they can do one without having to wait for a budget round to be approved that includes an expenditure of $5000-$50000 with no income attached,

    2) I can never forget the dollars and and stats for a minute, but am able to look long term at them. Several charities I work with at a Pareto in Australia and New Zealand have tested asking v not asking in surveys, and being doing them for more than ten years. Thinking of a state based animal charity, over the ten years the survey asks have brought in around $1,000,000 AND had no detrimental impact on the likelihood of larger gifts or bequests.

    3) Donors who have received surveys with asks are much more likely to become a bequestor or higher value donor than those who didn’t receive a survey. This hasn’t tested not asking, but many of those surveys would have not been sent if there hadn’t been an ask (see point 1).

    4) Asking in a survey increases recency and frequency. The RFM (recency, frequency, monetary value) index has never broken down when looking at future revenue – especially with potential legators, mid and major donors.

    5) Charities Pareto works with use surveys beyond major donors and bequests. Those are the most valuable, but we also use them for monthly giving, reactivation, donor care and more.

    6) Our surveys are accompanied by a beautiful letter and are designed really well, and – because they are genuine surveys (not disguised asks) the ask does not create the ‘I’m being tricked’ reaction. The copywriters and designers work hard at this. We also promise to, and do feedback on the findings which increases the validity of the survey despite the ask.

    7) We have different versions. Face to face monthly givers (those acquired by street or door-to-door canvassers) don’t get a financial ask. They actually respond well to the survey, but don’t tend to donate one off gifts. Some charities also exclude mid value or major donors from the ask. We don’t usually exclude confirmed bequestors from an ask.

    In conclusion – having an ask will increase immediate revenue, with no evidence of long term detriment. But is not actually not the most important thing to decide!

    The most important thing is get a true supporter connection survey out, every year, and if you haven’t got one planned get it out as soon as possible. Whether you want to ask or not, get one out soon even if the only way you can do it is by making an ask to cover the cost.


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