This is a guest post by Jay Love

Want to improve your nonprofit website, develop more compelling marketing messages, or streamline the donor experience? Nonprofits turn to one simple tactic time and time again to strengthen their strategies: collecting donor feedback. 

Gathering feedback can help you understand and incorporate donors’ viewpoints into your operations to improve donor relationships and work toward your mission more effectively. 

This guide explores compelling reasons why nonprofits should collect donor feedback and tips to gather this input effectively. 

Why Should Nonprofits Collect Donor Feedback?

Brainstorming questions, creating surveys and planning in-person interviews takes energy and effort, but it’s time well spent. Nonprofits that collect donor feedback can access the following benefits: 

1. Build stronger relationships with supporters

According to Bloomerang’s donor management guide, gathering supporter feedback is a core tenet of donor stewardship and engagement. Requesting donor input is an effective way to express appreciation and show donors that your nonprofit values their involvement. 

2. Foster trust and accountability

63.9% of respondents to the Donor Trust Report rated the importance of trusting a charity before donating as “essential.” By asking supporters for feedback, you demonstrate a commitment to ongoing improvement and a willingness to admit when you need help. 

Remember that asking for feedback is just the first step; to solidify donors’ trust, you must carefully consider their feedback and actually implement it in your ongoing efforts. Later in this post, we’ll review a few best practices for incorporating feedback into your strategies and communicating about it with donors. 

Alt: A person completes an online survey using a tablet

3. Improve your fundraising and marketing efforts

Collecting supporter feedback doesn’t just benefit your donor relationships. It can also positively impact your nonprofit’s strategic planning, specifically your fundraising and marketing efforts. 

Donor input can help you optimize your campaigns and design them in a way that appeals to a broader supporter audience. Supporter feedback can help you:

  • Develop more impactful messaging and compelling fundraising copy.
  • Select the most relevant communication channels that supporters use the most.
  • Offer convenient donation opportunities that appeal to donor preferences, such as a multitude of payment types on your online donation page

Donors will be much more likely to engage with campaigns that appeal to their interests or that they had a hand in developing via their feedback. 

4. Identify new opportunities and potential challenges

Donors can provide a valuable outsider perspective that can reveal new insights or angles that your nonprofit hasn’t yet explored. Some donors may have a particular educational background or professional skillset that allows them to contribute expert insights, such as information about fundraising technology or marketing best practices. 

By developing specialized surveys for different audiences based on their backgrounds, you can access highly valuable insights about potential new opportunities or challenges your nonprofit may face. 

For example, let’s say your nonprofit focuses on supporting early childhood education and many of your donors are teachers. You can send a specialized survey to those donors asking for their insights into current trends, challenges and opportunities in the educational development sector. 

5. Improve donor recruitment efforts

Asking current donors for their feedback on the giving process or the supporter experience can help you design effective strategies to reach potential new supporters. For example, you could send a survey asking donors about their communication preferences, such as the platforms they use the most and the times of the day they use those platforms. Then, you can create new donor outreach materials for those platforms to develop a cadence for engaging new supporters. 

Tips for Gathering Donor Feedback Effectively

Take full advantage of the benefits mentioned above by gathering donor feedback thoughtfully and strategically. Follow these best practices to access clear, actionable feedback: 

1. Choose the right audience

Each audience segment will have a slightly different supporter journey and perspective on your nonprofit, so you should focus on the most relevant groups for your needs when collecting feedback. 

Consider the segments in your donor management system and the type of feedback they can offer: 

  • Major donors can provide insight into your major giving program, engagement efforts and the preferences of wealthy supporters, which can support your prospect research. 
  • Monthly donors can offer feedback on your recurring giving program and what inspired them to get involved. 
  • Lapsed donors may offer input on why they decided to stop supporting your nonprofit and what might cause them to donate again in the future. 
  • Donors who also volunteer can contribute insight into what inspires them to volunteer and ideas for recruiting other volunteers to become donors. 
  • Donors who participate in peer-to-peer fundraising will be able to provide perspective on why they engage in peer-to-peer fundraising, whether as donors or volunteer fundraisers. They can also provide feedback on peer-to-peer fundraising events or campaigns. 
  • Legacy or planned donors can offer insight into why they decided to join your program, their communication preferences and any suggestions they have to improve the program or enhance communications. 

In addition to specialized surveys for each group, you can also send surveys to all donors for certain studies. For example, you could ask all donors for their input on your nonprofit’s strategic direction or why they support your organization. Combining specialized and general surveys can reveal the bigger picture of what supporters think about your organization. 

2. Choose effective questions

Develop your survey questions carefully to generate a rich collection of helpful responses. Keep these best practices in mind: 

  • Craft questions from a place of true curiosity. Your survey should not come off as defensive or apologetic about something that happened in the past. A negative tone could skew supporters’ responses or discourage them from completing the survey. Make your questions as open-ended and straightforward as possible. For example, instead of “Why do you think attendance at our annual gala was so low this year?” reframe the question by asking “How could we improve future gala events to make them more engaging?”
  • Select a mix of question types to get different kinds of information. A survey with just one question type is not only boring for supporters to complete, but also won’t help you access the most valuable information. Incorporate different question types, such as multiple choice, 1-10 rankings, or short answer. 

Avoid leading or biased questions. A leading question inspires the respondent to give an answer that you want to hear by incorporating biased language, leading to skewed results. For example, avoid questions like “On a scale of 1-10, how amazing was our annual Giving Tuesday campaign?” Instead, ask “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your experience as a donor to our Giving Tuesday campaign?”

Alt: Example of a leading vs. nonleading question (explained in the text above)

Effective survey questions may lead to some answers that are hard to hear. However, they’ll be responses you need to hear to improve your nonprofit’s campaigns. 

3. Provide multiple ways to give feedback

A donor feedback survey is one of the most common ways to gather supporter input, but it’s not the only option for nonprofits. You can also offer other feedback avenues such as:

  • Email conversations
  • Phone calls
  • Meetings
  • Social media polls

Use more general feedback avenues like email and social media to gather feedback from broad audiences and more personal options like phone calls and meetings to gather insights from specific individuals or donor segments. Get to know donors personally and look at response metrics across different channels to understand their preferred method for delivering feedback. 

4. Offer incentives

Donors will have to take some time out of their day to answer your feedback request. Even if it’s just a couple of minutes, supporters may be more willing to complete your survey if you also offer an incentive. These perks could include: 

  • Event ticket discounts
  • Free merchandise
  • Special thank-you shoutouts on social media

Offer these incentives to both supporters who fill out your survey and those who share a survey link on social media or via email. 

5. Follow up with donors

As mentioned, gathering donor feedback should just be step one of a larger process. How you synthesize and respond to supporters’ comments will pave the way for stronger donor relationships and increased trust. 

After receiving all survey responses, take the following steps to complete the process: 

    • Summarize trends in responses. Run donors’ responses through a reporting platform such as your CRM or a word cloud generator to identify trends and patterns in donors’ responses. 
    • Create a response plan. Identify the most common points of feedback and adjust your strategies accordingly. For example, if many supporters express a desire for a wider range of payment options on your online donation form, you could plan to find a new payment processing solution that accepts more payment types. 
    • Thank donors for their input and highlight steps your nonprofit will take in response. Let supporters know the most common responses you received and your plan for incorporating the feedback into your ongoing operations.

Provide additional ways for donors to submit feedback, such as an email address where they can send any comments. This helps create two-way communication to promote even greater transparency and accountability. 

Donor feedback helps take the guesswork out of nonprofit operational improvement because you can develop data-driven approaches that appeal to a wider audience. When carried out correctly, donor surveys are essential tools for building trust and long-lasting donor relationships. They’re a win-win for both supporters and the nonprofits they give to.

Jay Love, co-founder of BloomerangJay Love, co-founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang, has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.