How to Use Data for Donor Love

August 23, 2019

Communication and Connection

As fundraisers, we’re always trying to find the best possible way to communicate with our donors. Sometimes it seems like we’re just doing it to raise more money. And that would be fair, since raising money is the reason we have jobs.

But there’s something more to it than that. I would guess that most fundraisers are donors too. We know how it feels when the organization we trusted to carry out our philanthropic passions lets us down.

When a donor gets enmeshed with the mission of your organization, their passion swells. If you provide them with the messaging that they’re interested in, their connection deepens. And when you inspire them with a campaign that aligns with their philanthropic goals, their heart wants to help.

Data Capture Conundrum

To find that elusive perfect message, we need feedback. Which means we need surveys.

I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of charities sending out thousands of surveys to supporters, and then nothing happens with the responses. There are the woes of finding time for a data team to create new fields for the information to be captured, and the challenges of getting the answers entered once those fields exist. And if you make it that far, you need to actually find ways to pull that data and put it to use.

But, when we ask those questions and then just move on with our day, we might be chipping away at the trust the donor has placed in us. And we’re definitely missing out on an opportunity.

People are willing to share so much information. They offer us the chance to refine the way we speak to each individual person. We can find that perfect blend of what we want to share and what our supporters what to hear. We can let the market move us.

Are we asking the right questions?

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of donor surveys. Most of them ask great questions that get at the demographics of an audience, and maybe a few questions about communications. But, what else could we be asking people in those surveys?

If you’ve gone to an art gallery, a hotel, or an amusement park recently, I’d be willing to bet that when you got home, there was a survey sitting in your inbox. Whenever I do any of these things, I get a variation on the same survey.

They’re not just asking for my demographic information. They want qualitative data. There are questions about their staff. Questions about lines. Questions about what I would do to improve anything that I didn’t think they did perfectly. They want me to feel like they’re trying to perfect my experience. And maybe they are.

We could be asking supporters to rank how informative they found a newsletter. Or if they have a clear sense of how their gift had made an impact after they read the annual report. Were they inspired by the most recent story we shared? How likely are they to recommend our organization to family and friends?

Those answers can provide so much nuanced information about your audience. You will see what messages are working, and start to understand why. You’ll discover highly committed donors by identifying those most likely to recommend your organization. These questions can shift your perception from just an amorphous group of older donors to a collection of individuals you’re getting to know personally.

What’s next?

Once you’ve committed to asking your donors different questions, you need to determine how you’re going to ask those questions. Digital surveys are definitely an option for following up, and the results can be more easily compiled, but your audience may not all respond to a survey in an email. Including a survey with a DM piece has advantages in terms of reach. And, with the right combination of questions, you could inspire your donor in a similar way a letter augments response to the appeal.

A combination of both channels, and regular touch points is the best solution. If you plan ahead and start to compile all of the data, you will be able to show your love to your donors right away.

Take their answers seriously, and find ways to personalize appeals so that those donors feel you were listening. If enough donors tell you that they want to hear more individual stories of beneficiaries, try telling more personal stories where that donor is the hero of the story. If they tell you that they want to see more financial information, share your most recent annual report with them.

Taking the time to use data to show your donors some love could lead to stronger donor-loyalty. That that brings lowered attrition, and could even increase response rates and gift amounts. Like anything else in the world of fundraising, it won’t be easy, but the long-term results will be worth it.

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Morgan Steacy

Morgan Steacy

Fundraiser. Dreamer. Punny Dad. Political junkie. Runner. Food lover (making and eating!). Exclamation mark enthusiast!!