• Robert Osborne

Why this is a Perfect Time to do a Donor Satisfaction Survey


Being a philanthropic priority for your donors has never been more important and knowing how they feel about your organization, equally so. The fundamental question is, do you know enough about your donor base to make an informed plan to guide you through these uncertain times? A donor survey can provide you with real data today that will allow you to make accurate predictions about your donor base going forward and allow you to take proactive steps, if necessary, to avoid worst case scenarios.


As the global pandemic continues to force much of the world to suspend large amounts of economic activity, it is clear that the financial repercussions of this crises are likely to be large. We can also safely predict that as a result donations to nonprofits will be down. At this point it is hard to say how down they will be and for how long, but this should be our working assumption.


It continues to be our view at The Osborne Group that this is the time that resilient nonprofits will lean into their fundraising operations and ensure they are able to compete in what is likely to be a much tighter market. Sometimes I think that we in the nonprofit community forget that we are in a market and that donors have choices. And in a down economy, the choices donors are willing to make will be fewer. Just like in the for-profit world, each nonprofit needs to think about how it will compete in this more competitive environment.

In the last recession, while overall donating was down, many organizations saw increases in their giving. Many donors stopped giving to causes they had less connection to but continued to give to the causes that were most important to them. They may have even increased giving to those causes. Organizations that did a good job of stewardship over the years and who had formed strong relationships did just fine during the Great Recession. Organizations that were low on donors priority lists may have experienced large losses of revenue.


Imagine if your organization is liked, but not loved, by most of its donors? If this is the case, your organization may see a large dip in giving because for most of your donors your organization isn't a priority. And donors may only be willing to give to organizations they consider a priority in the time ahead. Are you a philanthropic priority for your donors?


One of the best ways to determine where you stand with your donors is through a donor satisfaction survey. Where are you on their priority list? Do they feel well cared for and informed? Do they feel their gifts make a difference? Do they feel that you communicate that difference well? What has best engaged them? What can you do as an organization to engage them more? Once you know the answers to these and other questions you can begin to make a plan that will lead to effective fundraising in the uncertain time ahead.


Here are some thoughts on how you can approach this:


  1. Have it "commissioned" by your development committee to make it official

  2. Surveys can be done online using SurveyMonkey or similar service or by hiring a consultancy like The Osborne Group

  3. Surveys can also be done "in-person" using Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. for your higher capacity donors and select middle donors, turning the survey into a strong strategic "move"

  4. Analyze the results and report back to your donors as additional stewardship

  5. Analyze the results and use them as the basis of a plan


If you are a priority for many of your donors, great. What are your plans to remain a top priority for them? If you aren't a priority, now it is critical that you become a priority through lots of stewardship and engagement or you are likely to see a real drop in your donations. And for those people where you are just outside of their top priorities, what actions can you take to become a priority?


Understanding our donors and their feelings about our organization is critical right now. If we don't know, we are likely to be blind-sided by less giving. If we have good information we can make a good plan and thrive.

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