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Building an Effective Donor Engagement Survey

You know who your donors are – but how do they feel about you?

Surveying donors regularly is a key component to interpreting and improving donor retention rates. After all, having a wealth of data where you can’t gauge any meaningful information from the numbers won’t help you very much. Knowing a person sticks around is not as helpful as knowing why they stick around.

There is no limit to what kind of donors you can survey. Only about 1/3rd of first-time donors make a second gift. Surveying them immediately after they donate is the first step towards building a long-term relationship. Lapsed donors (who haven’t given in 12 months) can be recaptured only about 5% of the time. Surveys can shed light on why they’ve stopped giving so you can adjust your efforts accordingly.

By surveying donors, you can find out if you’re communicating effectively, why donors are lapsing, if you’re thanking them appropriately, how passionate they are for your cause, and how much your donors trust your organization.

Some important things to keep in mind to be able to make an effective donor engagement survey are:


Unless you know what you want to obtain from the survey and what you will do with this information once you get it, don’t conduct a survey.

Every time you ask your donors for something – even if just a response – you are making a withdrawal. It is only worth it if you know that the results will be put to use. Before creating your survey, make sure your goals are clear. Otherwise, how will you know if your survey was successful?


Most likely, you don’t want to survey everyone in your donor pool. Instead, you want to get information about specific subsets of your donor base, and selecting this audience will depend on the purpose of your survey.

There are many ways to segment audiences, including by donation amount, frequency, time of donation, age or demographics, etc.


Research shows that shorter surveys are more likely to get responses, so keep the survey as short as possible. Most, if not all, of your questions should be close-ended.

Longer surveys can be tiring for respondents, and many are already short on time and don’t want to put in the extra effort of answering too many questions, especially if they require longer, thought-out answers.

It is recommended to have a maximum of 10 questions in one survey, with no more than one open-ended question.


Most likely, the survey will be delivered online through cost-effective tools like Google Forms. Make sure your online survey tool is intuitive, works well on all browsers, and, most importantly, is mobile-friendly. When sending out follow-up reminders, make sure to exclude people who have already responded to make sure you don’t look too out of touch.


When the survey is done, make sure to test it once before you send it out. Don’t let typos or easily misunderstood questions mess up the results. Read them out to yourself or get a third party to complete it with you sitting alongside to see what parts of it need improvement (if any) and how long it would take for them to complete it. Test it on different browsers as well, to make sure none of your users have a bad experience.

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