How to Create an Effective Donor Survey

Donor surveys are powerful, inexpensive fundraising and communication tools for charities of all sizes. A well-thought-out donor or member survey is particularly valuable for planned giving or legacy campaigns. Donor surveys are an excellent way to identify legacy prospects and expectants, while also helping you to reinforce your charity’s case for support.

Here’s how to create an effective donor survey

  1. Keep it short. Ask no more than 12 – 15 questions. Long surveys get low response rates.
  2. Consider paying for SurveyMonkey or another survey tool so that you are not limited by the number of questions and design options.
  3. Brand your survey with your charity’s brand colours and a beautiful, inspiring, mission-based image. The design of your survey is critical to connect supporters to your mission and vision.
  4. Don’t make questions compulsory. I feel that it can set a bad tone and may frustrate your donors, making them feel that they have no control. You will get some partially completed or anonymous surveys back, but that’s OK. Those supporters aren’t your best prospects.
  5. Consider starting the survey with an inspiring quote to help get your supporters into the right frame of mind to submit their answers.
  6. Use the survey to remind donors/members of your case for support and core programs and find out what they care about most. For instance, “I support [insert charity’s name] because… then list your key programs. Allow them to select multiple options.
  7. Ask for contact information. Anonymous surveys are useless if you want to identify who your leads and legacy donors are.
  8. Embed the planned giving or legacy questions in the middle of the survey, after you’ve asked people what programs they care about most and before you ask for personal details. Here are three sample legacy questions:
    a. After you have provided for your loved ones, would you consider leaving a gift in your Will to [insert charity name]?
    i. Yes, I would consider it
    ii. Yes , I have already left a gift to [insert charity name] in my will
    iii. I have a will and intend to change it to include [insert charity name]
    iv. Unsure at this time
    v. No
    b. If you answered no, or if you are unsure, would you mind telling us what prevents you from considering a gift in your will at this time?
    c. Are you interested in receiving more information on how to leave a gift to [insert charity’s name] in your will?
    i. Yes
    ii. No
  9. Ask if people are interested in becoming monthly supporters or whether they are interested in just single gifts.
  10. Be sure to ask for stories or testimonials with these two questions below. This is fundraising gold so leave plenty of space for people to answer. These answers will tell you a lot about your supporters and, if they give you permission to use their answers, you can use their testimonials for many purposes such as on your website and in appeal letters. You’ll be surprised at how eloquent and moving these responses can be. Your donors are not burdened by “the curse of knowledge”, that is being too close to the organization’s work, so they can express clearly and in unique ways the power of your mission and vision. Remember you must ask for permission to share their words. Here are sample questions:
    a. Please share your story with us. I support the [insert charity’s name] because:
    b. May we share your words about [insert charity’s name] in our publications?
    i. Yes
    ii. No
  11. Make sure that you add all the survey information into your Donor Management System or database.
  12. Follow up promptly with a warm, sincere thank you for completing the survey and be sure to send donors any information that they have requested, such as the legacy booklet.

Creating a Development Plan with SMART goals

A fundraising development plan with SMART goals is essential for any charity or non-profit.

The plan should be in line with your charity’s fiscal year so that you can easily set realistic goals in line with your charity’s budget and measure results. I suggest doing quarterly reports against your plan so that you can see how your various fundraising activities are performing and make any adjustments to your strategies and efforts in that aspect of fundraising.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are those that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Setting SMART goals keeps you and your charity on track to success.

The goals in your charity’s annual Development Plan should be clearly defined. It’s not enough to say, “Raise more money for our programs.”  You need to set detailed objectives for each part of your plan — for major gifts, grants, the annual campaign, the legacy campaign and so on. Here’s an example: “To raise at least $30,000 net from the spring appeal letter by September 1.” For small charities, goals for legacy programs won’t be revenue because it’s not realistic, but a specific goal might be to increase the number of people who say they have included a bequest to your charity from X number to Y number by a certain date.

Unless a goal is measurable, you can’t know if you’ve achieved it. Just raising “more money” is not a measurable goal. Know what you’re aiming for and be specific in your plan. If you want to increase your number of monthly donors from 30 to 60 and to increase the annual revenue from your monthly donor program from $X to $Y, then say so in your plan. If part-way through the year you can see that you’ve made no progress on this part of your plan, address it, perhaps with a specific campaign to recruit monthly donors.

Sadly, there’s no magic wand in fundraising. In collaboration with your charity’s executive director, you have to set realistic, achievable goals. If the goals set out in your Development Plan are way too high to achieve it will just be discouraging to you and your team. Moreover, they will also give the board of directors a false picture of what is possible. Before you set your overall revenue goal for the fiscal year and the specific goals for each aspect of your fundraising plan, know your benchmarks and understand any challenges that you face for that area of fundraising. For instance, if your annual holiday appeal has raised an average of $40,000 per year over the past five years, then it’s OK to set a realistic stretch goal, but be realistic in your plan. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.

Your mission and programs must guide your plan. Don’t go madly off in all directions. Know what fundraising methods are the most relevant and suitable for your organization.

Set a deadline or timeline for each goal. Often, the deadline for goals will be the end of the fiscal year, but state it for each goal. If your goals aren’t time-bound they can easily stagnate. Deadlines keep you and your charity on track.

Good luck and may you and your organization achieve your missions!


Brilliant marketing video

This video is so great I had to share it.

The Great Escape, a 2015 advertisement by Graubunden Tourism in Switzerland, is slightly similar to the WestJet Christmas Miracle campaign that I shared in 2013 in that it uses interactive technology to reach out to stressed-out travellers in a busy place, in this case a Zurich train station.

Via a special booth in the centre of the station, a genuine Graubunden mountain man sitting outdoors in his idyllic mountain village is able to see and talk to passersby in the train station. He charmingly interacts with them and invites them to visit him in the mountains that very afternoon. He even offers to call their teachers or bosses to provide an excuse for their absence. If the travellers accept, the screen prints out a train ticket and all they need to do is jump on the train on the next platform.

The surfboard’s a sweet touch!

14 Tips for Great Nonprofit Storytelling

Here are some tips to help you tell better stories.

  1. Start strong, fast and end big. You only have a few seconds to hook your reader.
  2. Appeal to the heart. Tap into people’s emotions.
  3. Exercise brutal efficiency. Cut out the deadwood.
  4. Read your story aloud multiple times. Listen carefully to where your story flows and where you might stumble.
  5. Use short powerful sentences and a conversational tone to engage the reader.
  6. Avoid jargon, acronyms and lots of statistics.
  7. Determine your takeaway message. What action do you want to inspire?
  8. Good stories are about challenges and conflict. Start with a person and his or her challenge.
  9. Write and rewrite.
  10. Use rich vivid language and give a sense of time and place.
  11. Remember the story arc and pull people along to build tension.
  12. Consider using a powerful image to support your story.
  13. Make it real. Allow the person in your story to have a real name, age, and above all to speak for himself or herself.
  14. Make the donor the ultimate hero of your story.

Why Being a Mentor is Good for Your Health

Are you feeling stressed? Even though it’s only January, are you already feeling overburdened and anxious about the year ahead?

Here’s a solution. Become a CAGP or AFP Mentor for 2014 and you can help lower your stress level, improve your health, strengthen your immune system AND become a more sustainable leader.

Sound miraculous? Read on to learn about the science behind this.

Leadership is stressful. Experienced fundraising professionals have to cope with pressure day in and day out, year after year. This “power stress” is caused by a combination of responsibility, constant self-control and dealing with the inevitable small and large crises that leadership roles demand.

You may not realize this, but stress increases the electrical activity in your brain’s right prefrontal cortex and releases hormones that activate your “fight or flight” response.

Over the years, researchers have gained insight into the long-term effects stress has on our physical and psychological health. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. “Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction,” according to the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter.

But it’s not just about you. Emotions are literally contagious. When leaders are in the grip of stress or burnout, the dissonance they create spreads to all those around them.

Leadership experts have found that one of the most effective ways to renew yourself as a leader is through “compassionate coaching” or mentorship.

This type of caring relationship is a win-win situation, with clear benefits for the person being coached and some great, more hidden, benefits for the mentor.

When we act with compassion, helping others develop and grow, we increase the activity in our body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This in turn activates a set of hormones that lowers our blood pressure and strengthens our immune system. At the same time, the activity in our sympathetic nervous system – the fight or flight — subsides.

“When leaders experience compassion through coaching the development of others, they experience psychophysiological effects that restore the body’s natural healing and growth processes, thus enhancing their sustainability. We thus suggest that to sustain their effectiveness, leaders should emphasize coaching as a key part of their role and behavioral habits,” say leadership experts Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Nancy Blaize of Case Western Reserve University.

Both the Canadian Association of Gift Planners and the Association of Fundraising Professionals have excellent mentorship programs as free benefits to their members. You can learn how to become a CAGP Mentor or an AFP Mentor through your local chapters.

Note: For a thorough review of research and literature on stress, power stress, and leadership see Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, “Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion” and Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith and Nancy Blaize “Developing Sustainable Leaders through Coaching and Compassion”.

Heather Wardle CFRE is a fundraising and communications consultant in Vancouver ( and is the Chair of AFP Vancouver’s Scholarship and Mentorship Committee. Many years ago, when she made the career switch from book publishing to fundraising, she was fortunate to have two wonderful mentors through the CAGP and AFP mentorship programs. Heather is now an AFP Mentor and loves the opportunity to give back.

WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video and some lessons for charities

I couldn’t resist blogging about a brilliant marketing and customer stewardship campaign – WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video. If you haven’t seen it yet, get out your Kleenex and here it is:

When I looked at the video yesterday it had received about 7 million hits and within 24 hours it had jumped to over 15 million. As I was typing this up, it jumped by another million. By the time you read this, who knows how many views it will have had – but certainly many times more than the 800,000 that the company had envisioned.

Kudos to Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice president of communications and community relations, for this heartwarming and creative campaign that does a stellar job of cementing WestJet’s brand in people’s minds. Mr. Bartrem’s modest comment to Forbes was, “We’re pretty thrilled.” No doubt!

Not only has the video gone viral and has been seen around the world in over 200 countries, it has made the news across North America and as far as the U.K., Australia, Japan, Poland and Malaysia.

What I found really special about the video were the comments of the viewers on Youtube who said things like:

  • The most heartwarming ad I’ve ever seen
  • WestJet, that’s advertising done right. Next time I get a chance I’ll fly WestJet!
  • Wow, I already love WestJet and fly with them when I can.  I’m amazed at what they do for their customers.  WestJet, you’re awesome!
  • WestJet, the only way to fly.
  • This is amazing. Who knew that a corporation today would ever go to this much trouble to make dozens of customers happy. KUDOS to WestJet.

Forbes reported that the campaign had been planned since August and was filmed in November. It was quite a logistical feat, involving some 150 WestJet employees.

One of the greatest benefits, that may not be obvious to the average viewer, is what the campaign must do for staff engagement and morale. You can clearly see that the “WestJetters” involved were having a lot of fun as they gathered and wrapped gifts and celebrated with passengers at the baggage carousel. You can bet that WestJet employees feel proud of their company, their service and that campaigns like this, which are clearly fun and playful, also help staff retention rates.

So what are the lessons here for non-profits in all of this? One big lesson is about building donor loyalty. In the charitable sector, our “customers” are our donors, volunteers and other supporters. Just like WestJet we need to keep our customers happy and engaged. Excellent donor stewardship mixed with personalization, creativity, fun and the element of surprise can go a long way towards this. And in case you don’t think charities have a donor loyalty problem, here’s a sobering statistic: commercial business customer retention is 94% vs. non-profit donor retention of 41%. We can and should pay attention to those for-profit companies that are doing a good job in this area.

Campaigns like WestJet’s don’t just spread outwards, they spread inwards, and affect how employees feel about their work and their company. So here’s another big lesson that non-profits and charities can learn from WestJet – how to foster employee satisfaction, engagement and control. WestJet has been named one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures four times by Waterstone and ranked as the third-best employer in Canada by Aon Hewitt in 2011. As one leadership expert wrote, “Good managers know that happy employees are both loyal and productive employees.”

It’s no secret that staff retention rates in the charitable sector in Canada are pretty abysmal and this has a profound impact on our abilities to achieve our missions. This is not a tiny part of Canada’s economy. According to Charity Village there are more than 165,000 nonprofits and charities operating in Canada. Together they contribute 7.8% of GDP and represent 10.5% of the labour force.

So here’s the bottom line — to be successful, you need to make your customers/donors and your employees feel good and there’s no harm in getting a few lessons from those who are doing it right.

Bob Prenovost of PM-Volunteers receives Giving Hearts Award

“No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”   Amelia Earhart

ripples on water

Last May, I sat down at my kitchen table to write a letter as a small act of gratitude. The letter was to nominate Bob Prenovost, founder of, for the “Outstanding Volunteer Fundraising of the Year” for National Philanthropy Day in Vancouver, BC.

The rules of the Giving Hearts nominations stipulate that the nominee must be informed, so I told Bob of my plan. I’m sure he was rather surprised that a virtual stranger was doing this, but he was too polite to say anything.

I work as a fundraising and communications consultant and, in May 2013, I completed one of’s popular Non-Profit Project Management Training Workshops. Although I had been hearing about PM-V for years, it was my first chance to really see it in action. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude that these busy professionals were taking their time to share their expertise with non-profits and charities.

The course was amazing – 10 hours of instruction over 4 Monday evenings, with 4 dinners, a take-home workbook, and a celebratory party – all for the amazing price of $100. I was deeply impressed by the generosity, professionalism and warmth of Bob and his team.

I’m happy to say that my nomination was successful and on November 15th 2013 Bob Prenovost will be honoured as the Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer of the Year – an award that he richly deserves for his exceptional leadership, innovation and philanthropic vision.

Maimonides said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Bob Prenovost’s work with exemplifies these wise words. Through his leadership he has created a committed team of “knowledge philanthropists” that have helped over 100 charities and non-profits in Vancouver since 2009.

PM-Volunteers began with a few scribbles on a napkin. Bob recalls, “In November of 2009, I attended a project management professional development conference. Chatting over coffee at one of the breaks, my colleagues and I mused over how we could combine our ongoing professional development requirements with giving back to the local community. These ideas about how to connect skilled, volunteer project managers with not-for-profit organizations seemed just a bit too interesting not to pursue!”

Within a month, Bob had transformed those scribbles into™ (PM-V), a unique and powerful program in which volunteer project managers give their time, expertise and mentoring to the charitable and non-profit sector in Vancouver.

By teaching charities and non-profits essential project management skills and best practices such as scheduling, budgeting, work breakdowns, risk management etc., Bob and his team of volunteer professionals empower charities to achieve their missions and visions and help ensure the ongoing success of the philanthropic sector in Vancouver.

Here are some of the amazing results that Bob and his team of knowledge philanthropists have achieved to date:

  • over 7000 hours of pro bono professional project management services have been given back to the community valued at over $700,000;
  • 95 community projects have been supported by volunteer project management professionals;
  • 102 non-profit organizations have been engaged and 96% of them would consider using PM-V again for future projects;
  • 100 project management professionals have volunteered through PM-V and 92% of them would volunteer again for future projects;
  • 200 non-profit sector leaders have successfully completed PM-V’s Non Profit Project Management Training Workshops.

Bob envisioned PM-V as a values-based, mission-driven organization that has a triple bottom line — where the volunteer project management professionals, non-profit organizations and communities all win. Here’s how it works:

  1. The volunteer project managers gain insight into the unique challenges of non-profit work and increase their familiarity with a wider variety of projects, while also earning professional development units for their service.
  2. The charities and non-profit clients get practical, professional help with their projects and develop their understanding of the project management process. These skills can be applied to future work across their organizations.
  3. Hundreds of charitable missions are advanced thanks to this special partnership.

Everyone wins!

Bob wrote, “I have come to understand that philanthropy can take many forms. We can, of course, give our money and our time, but one of the most powerful ways to create sustainable and positive social impact is by being a knowledge philanthropist… sharing our knowledge and skills and, in turn, learning from and about the organizations that we choose to support. Through my own involvement as part of a knowledge-driven, capacity-building initiative, I have benefited by gaining a much different perspective on many of the social issues and opportunities in our community.”

The ripple effect of Bob’s vision will be felt across the sector for generations.

An act of kindness is like a pebble tossed into a pond with the ripples spreading outward. Bob Prenovost’s visionary act is like hundreds of pebbles tossed into a pond, again and again. The ripple effect is immeasurable.

I congratulate Bob Prenovost and his team at on their achievements.

The Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to Bob on National Philanthropy Day, November 15th 2013 in Vancouver. Tickets to the event may be purchased at AFP Vancouver.

Heather Wardle CFRE is a fundraising and communications consultant in Vancouver at She is a board member of the Vancouver chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and is the Chair of AFP’s Scholarship and Mentorship Committee.

New UN Women campaign uses Google autocomplete to deliver its message

In my last post I wrote about great campaign videos for non-profits. Here’s a great new print ad campaign by UN Women that uses something we’re all familiar with — Google’s autocomplete function — to deliver a powerful message about sexist attitudes that prevail throughout the world. And I mean, throughout the world.

UN Women print ad showing Google autocomplete results for "women cannot" and includes these answers, women cannot drive, women cannot be trusted

The ads show women’s mouths obscured by Google search fields as a result of Google’s autocomplete function. The autocompletes generated were based on searches dated 9 March, 2013, according to UN Women’s website, but they don’t say from which country the search was conducted. The campaign reminds me of Amnesty International’s original “Stop Violence Against Women” campaign that also used photos of women’s faces with the mouth portion torn out.

The series of print ads were created by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, uses genuine Google searches to reveal the widespread prevalence of sexism and discrimination against women. The searches are:

  • Women should
  • Women shoudn’t
  • Women cannot
  • Women need to

UN Women poster 2013 showing "women shouldn't" UN Women poster "women should"

“When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” says Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team.

“The ads are shocking because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. They are a wake up call, and we hope that the message will travel far,” adds Kareem Shuhaibar, copy writer.

UN Women ad poster women need to

What is completely chilling is when you try this at home.

This is what I saw here in Vancouver on October 22, 2013 when I put in the search “women need to” in Google:

screen shot of Google autocomplete results for  "women need to"

For UN Women, the searches confirm the urgent need to continue making the case for women’s rights, empowerment and equality, a cause the organization is pursuing around the world. UN Women is heartened by the initial strong reaction to the ads and hopes they will spark constructive dialogue globally.

UN Women —  the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women– was created in July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. We all clearly have a long way to go.

Three great non-profit campaign videos

Last week I attended a Net Tuesday event with Steve Rosenberg of Pull Focus Film School about campaign videos and what works and doesn’t work.

I thought I’d share a few videos for non-profits that I love and that use humour, surprise, and quirkiness to great effect.

The first is the now-famous “Follow the Frog” campaign for the Rainforest Alliance which features great writing and the “hero’s journey” in a new and fun way.

The second is the very catchy “Dumb Ways to Die” video from Australia which, at the time of this posting, had over 61 MILLION hits. This is astounding for any video, let along a safety video. Kudos to its creators. Warning: the song gets stuck in your head!

And finally, “Meathead” which was made by two of my classmates at Pull Focus Film School, Ali Rashti and Russell Bennett. It was great fun to watch part of the film being made and to see Ali’s creative genius. That’s Steve’s foot on Russell’s head! (Click on the link to view it on Vimeo because the embed code doesn’t work.)

7 steps to start your charity’s peer-to-peer fundraising campaign

This is the second article in a series on peer-to-peer fundraising for charities and non-profits. In this post, I’ll explain 7 action steps you can take to launch your year-round peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.


Research the best possible online tool for creating personal giving pages.

There are lot of free, low-cost and fee-based options on offer and more are being created every time. Research and compare pricing, functionality, geographic reach (e.g. is it available to your supporters in their country), performance reviews, design, tone, the level to which the donor can personalize their page, and ease of use for both your supporters and you. There lots of reviews online about different tools. See for one example.


The details of how to do this and how to brand your page will depend on which provider you choose. It shouldn’t take long to set up your charity’s site – just about an hour or two. Make sure that the text and images you use to brand your site are compelling and inspiring.


For year-round fundraising, your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign should be a permanent fixture on your website and should fit within your overall design. It should:

  • be on your homepage – perhaps with a click-through button;
  • be explained on a great landing page that is simple to figure out and with FAQs. For an excellent example of a landing page see charity:water’s page
  • use graphics to support your text;
  • include prominent calls to action;
  • come with tools to share via email and social media;
  • have well-written and compelling templates for emails so that all your supporters have to do is hit send;
  • highlight events for fundraising – birthdays, holidays etc.


Have a comprehensive marketing and communication strategy to introduce people to the idea of peer-to-peer fundraising and to coach them along the way. This would include:

  • a social media strategy;
  • a donor stewardship strategy to thank donors, such as immediate phone calls to thank people whenever they create a page (see more details about stewardship below);
  • a calendar and strategy for key dates for your organizations and holidays that your supporters might want to tap into for their fundraising pages – e.g. Mother’s Day, Earth Day, International Women’s Day;
  • regular news about your peer-to-peer campaign in your newsletter, and blog so that your supporters know these tools are available and so that they can be inspired by stories of how people are using them. Using blog posts or newsletter articles to highlight a donor’s story is also a great way to thank that person, if they’re willing to have their story shared;
  • consider rotating in different projects. Depending upon your organization’s greatest needs, you can change where the funds are going every so often. For example, you could establish quarterly projects that will be funded, in whole or in part, by the proceeds from your supporter fundraising program.


Test your campaign in house and iron out any kinks. See if board members, volunteers, staff and your closest supporters will start the ball rolling with their own campaigns and share their feedback with you on how the process can be streamlined and improved.


Pick a date for your public launch for the campaign and start spreading the word, following your communication and marketing plan.


As in everything else in fundraising, you can’t overestimate the power of good donor stewardship – thanking people for their gifts or efforts on behalf of your charity and showing them the impact that their generosity has made. With peer-to-peer fundraising you need to have a clear strategy to keep your fundraisers in the fold. Be proactive.

  • When someone creates a giving page, pick up the phone and call them right away to thank them, to see if they had any problems with the platform, to ask if they need any help or information, to provide them with any materials that will make their page more interesting – like photos.
  • Stay in touch with your fundraisers, especially with your most active ones, and send them personal notes (a good board task);
  • Share their success stories to both recognize their efforts and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. This can be done through your newsletter, Facebook page, Twitter, blog etc.
  • Close the loop. Make sure that you let your fundraisers know what type of impact they are helping your organization make. Try to give them concrete information and share pictures, stories and even video, so that they can also share this with their friends who have given. This is the easiest way to cement a positive relationship between your organization and your supporters and keep them inspired and engaged;
  • Show them the love. Make them feel like a part of the family – invite them to special events, call them, send them birthday cards, share your success stories — and they will continue to raise money for you year after year.