Understanding what motivates a donor to give to an organization is a constant challenge of any nonprofit organization. People respond for personal reasons that involve decisions made in their heads (Do I have enough money to be able to afford to give? Do I think this organization can and will really do what it says?) and their hearts (Do I care enough about their mission that I choose to give away some of my money to help solve it?).

One way to understand what your donor is thinking is to ask. Unfortunately, this is not perfect as people often say what they think we want to hear instead of what is reality. Take for example the length of a direct mail letter; survey after survey shows donors prefer a brief, one-page letter – but when tested head-to-head, the two-page (or longer) letter frequently raises more net income. But asking donors a few questions from time to time can not only give you helpful information; it can also strengthen the relationship you have with your donors by helping them feel more invested in the organization.

An online survey is an easy – and inexpensive — way to get your donor’s feedback. When thinking about using this tool, keep a few things in mind:

  1. Give your donors a compelling reason to complete the survey. This doesn’t have to be “answer and get a premium.” Instead (for example) explain that you want to make sure that you are providing the kinds of information in your newsletter that helps them see the impact of their giving, and that their responses to a few short questions will help you impact more lives more effectively.
  1. Although it’s tempting to ask everything you want to know, limit your survey to just a few questions. If the survey is too long, you’ll discourage response. Start with just three questions, all related to the same topic. You can – and should — ask more in a few months. In fact, try to build a “culture of providing opinions” among your donor as a way of building donor loyalty and engagement with you more organically.
  1. Make the questions clear and don’t try to manipulate a particular response. Asking, “What are the three things that make our newsletter fabulous?” may keep some from responding if they don’t agree your newsletter is that good. Instead ask, “What kinds of articles do you enjoy reading in our newsletter?” and then list typical subjects or features.

Donors (like all of us) like to share their opinions, and getting in the habit of asking them to do just that by completing a short survey is a win-win – you get a better idea what your donor thinks, and therefore how you can better speak a language that resonates with your supporters, and they feel valued for more than just the money they give.