Right, so you’ve convinced yourself and others that a survey sounds like a worthwhile exercise. And you’ve mapped out how you’re going to execute.
Before you actually get it in the post, make sure you spend time working through the following considerations:
1 Who are you going to mail?
Remember, treat this for all intents and purposes like an appeal mailing. Use a Recency, Frequency and Value (RFV) model to dictate your selections. But don’t get bogged down in this, an easy cheat is to include anyone who has previously given more than one cash gift, over $20 in value and within the last two years.
That being said, I’ve seen a lot of success going back even further, in fact with some clients going back to donors who havent made a financial contribution for five, even six years.
Most of my focus has been on sending surveys to existing donors, however surveys can (you should test this) be really effective ways to recruit new donors, as an acquisition tool. If you can get this working then brilliant, as not only have you developed a new and successful way to secure new donors, but immediately you have captured some really powerful information about them.
2 Capturing and storing data
I’d suggest there are three levels of data capture with a survey.
Firstly, there are the pieces of information (data) you absolutely need to be able to store on your main database, regardless of the platform you use. These include date of birth (if you capture it - and you should as a side note), whether someone has indicated they have left you a bequest/legacy and things like personal afflictions with your cause (I.e. they have told you they have lost someone to cancer). This is the sensitive stuff that donors would expect (and rightly so) that if you capture it you would have it at your fingertips when they speak to you.
Secondly, there is the data that you would ideally love to have readily available, but isn’t as essential as the category above. For example, when someone tells you they were motivated to support you because they visited one of your projects or that they are really interested in your sanitation project in Zambia. Again really useful and important data which you should make every effort to store and have easily available, but isn’t the end of the world if you don’t (and certainly not worth delaying doing a survey if you can’t store it)!
Thirdly, there is the data from the ‘filler’ questions I talked about. For instance someone tells you they support Charity X and Y as well as you, or that they have an income level over a certain level or that they hold a university degree. Some of this profiling information may be useful in terms of developing a donor blueprint for acquisition purposes, but doesn’t need to be held on your main database.
3 Processing the surveys
Fundamentally I don’t think any organization should try and process the surveys in-house (unless you are expecting less than a couple hundred surveys to be returned or you already have a large processing team that can handle big volumes and complicated processing).
Use an outsourced data processing house/bureau to data enter the responses to the questions. In terms of response, done properly you should a response of anywhere from 10-30%. Which means that depending on the size of your file you could be talking about thousands of surveys (with up to 20 questions per survey) to process. It isn’t worth the hassle of doing it yourself. Outsource it.
However there will be some element of sifting through the surveys when they are first received as for those people who also give a donation, indicate they are interested in leaving a legacy and so on, you do need to action these before they get batched and sent off to a third party supplier.
4 Getting the follow up right
You will be asking donors questions on a range of things and possibly asking them to indicate interest in varying areas such as attending events, bequests/legacies and even whether they would like to volunteering their most precious commodity, their time.
For those of you who love flow charts (and I do know some flow chart addicts!), you will love surveys. You need to sit down with the entire fundraising/development team (including supporter services) and map out each and every outcome that requires action from you.
I.e. Donor returns survey with a donation, indicates intending to leave a bequest and wants to volunteer at your annual bike ride.
Contrast this with . . .
Donor returns survey only, indicates interested in commencing a monthly gift and shared with you (in the comments section) their personal story of living with cancer
Two very different outcomes requiring very different journeys. Bottom line is you need to think through all of the eventualities and assign key responsibilities at every stage.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this step, for if you get it wrong it can be incredibly destructive. And I assure you, no matter how successful the survey is in terms of response, the number of donors who have told you they are leaving a bequest – if this process causes friction and turmoil, it will leave an indelible mark which may result in the survey being pulled next year.
5 Using the data (personalization)
This is the fun part. This is where you can take supporter relationship management to the next level.
I’ve talked about the type of questions you should consider asking (reasons for support, areas of interest, real motivation, satisfaction levels) – but before you execute the survey think about how you are going to use it.
There are obvious ways to use it, like this . . .
“Jonathon, I know you told me recently that you have seen for yourself the devastation of the Amazon which is why you were motivated to support us, which is why I know you will be shocked when I tell you. . .”
But I’d encourage you to think how you can use the information regardless of the topic you are talking to donors about. let’s say for example the appeal is focused on the Amazon and I hadn’t shown any interest, why not write something like this . . .
“Jonathon, when I wrote to you earlier this year you told me that you were really interested in the work we were doing in the Amazon which as you know is incredibly important. Right now however I am determined to ramp up our efforts on the effects of dangerous climate change. . . “
See what I’ve done here? Still used the data to make a personal connection, but even more cleverly.
I’ll wrap up there. I hope I’ve given you a basic blueprint for how to convince yourself and others why surveys can be one of the most fundraising tools at your disposal as well as some key things to think through as you pull one together.
As always give me a shout if you need any help on this, and I’d love for you to share your survey stories if you have any.