Nonprofit organizations are notorious for putting out surveys – surveys to event attendees, surveys to program participants, surveys to volunteers. But in all that data collection, are you surveying your donors? If you’re not, we think you should be.

As fundraisers, we all know that getting to know your donors is the key to effective cultivation. Of course, getting to know someone through personal one-to-one exchanges is still the best way to do it, but sometimes you need information from more people than you have hours in the week, and scheduling coffee meetings is just not going to do it. This might be the case when you need some statistically significant feedback on a recent donor communications campaign, for instance, or want to get a sense of whether your procedure around Thank You’s is actually making your target audience feel appropriately thanked (a question that can be awkward to ask in person, especially if the relationship is new).

As you’re putting together that survey, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Set a clear goal for your survey. Are you obtaining data to help segment your donor lists? Are you looking for reactions to a particular event? Are you polling for interest in a new type of programming? Each of these goals will require a different set questions, and potentially even a different audience.

  2. Craft questions that will give you useful, actionable information. Don’t overload yourself with data that you can’t actually do anything with. Sure, it might be fun to know if your donor played the clarinet in high school, but if you cannot put that information to work for you, then don’t waste their time in asking the question. More of the fun information like that will come out through donor research or in the conversation you eventually get to have with this person over coffee.

  3. Keep most of your questions closed ended. Your survey results will be much easier to analyze if you offer donors multiple-choice questions. Question formats under this umbrella might include likert scale, rating scale, or ranking questions. In most survey tools you can also choose between multiple choice single answer and multiple choice multi answer. Open ended questions are good if you’re looking for quotes that you can use in your materials, but otherwise, you may risk getting information that is unclear or unhelpful.

  4. Make sure your questions are concrete. We humans don’t actually know ourselves as well as we think we do, which means we don’t actually know how we might react in a hypothetical situation. You are more likely to get accurate information about your donors if you ask questions about their experiences of past events (Did you feel appropriately thanked after making your gift?) or their assessment of the present (What other types of organizations do you give to?).

  5. Keep it short and sweet. Unless there is a great incentive attached, it will be difficult to get people to fill out a long survey to completion. Keeping your questions focused on your goals will help minimize the length of your survey, as will populating it largely with multiple-choice questions. In addition to the number of questions on the page, consider the amount of time that the entire form takes to fill out. Is it three minutes or less? If so, great! Make sure to share that up front, so that your donors know what kind of commitment they are getting into.

Interested in putting together a donor survey, but not sure where to start? Here are some interesting examples from Bloomerang, Network for Good, and Classy.