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.

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.

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.

Perhaps the best job posting I’ve ever seen

About a month ago I saw a job posting from Penguin Books shared by a friend on Facebook. It was called Impress a Penguin ( and was unlike any job posting I’d ever seen before. It is brilliant!

Screen shot of one portion of Penguin Books' brilliant job posting

Screen shot of one portion of Penguin Books’ brilliant job posting “Impress a Penguin”

It’s a stellar bit of branding and simultaneously it is a fun, creative and charming way of reaching out and inspiring potential job applicants to excel. This career posting for a Community Manager seems guaranteed to produce results — both the ideal candidate for the job as well as brilliant ideas for the future.

I just had to share it.

P.S. I loved this ad so much that I wrote (well, my black-and-white cat Oliver wrote) a fan email to its creator, Alan Trotter. The fun continued because when you click on the link to his email the subject line “Flattery” appears.