Want to know what your donors are thinking? Ask them!

With the world changing at a rapid pace, there has never been a better time to understand what your donors are thinking. So how do we do this? We ask!

Many arts and cultural organizations are in the midst of a difficult environment in which they’ve had to cut their budgets, enact furloughs, and lay off staff, while making plans to operate effectively with reduced resources.

Some of those organizations are using donor surveys to help shape these critical plans. Understanding donors’ interests, behaviors, and priorities is crucial for every institution to effectively strategize and move forward, as well as to serve as an important stewardship touch point with constituents that also provides actionable data. The following examples show how several arts and culture organizations have used surveys to shift plans and prioritize efforts.

Where do we fit in our donors’ priorities?

In the 2008 recession, GG+A typically saw donors give to fewer institutions and give to those organizations that were their top priority. Additionally, GG+A has seen that being a first or second philanthropic priority correlates with recurrent giving and the likelihood of major giving.

Those insights drove a regional symphony to seek to understand where it fit among its donors’ philanthropic priorities. This data point will help illuminate the symphony’s philanthropic landscape and help them prioritize their outreach. The chart below shows that the 33% of donors who said the institution is a first or second priority should continue to be stewarded and kept close. For those donors further down the line, now might be the time to ask, “What can we do to make our institution your first or second charitable priority.”

Which donors should we start with?

A small science museum believed that by developing a planned giving program it could create a new growth opportunity.

As it began to make plans for this new initiative, it sent current donors a survey that asked if they would be open to being contacted about a planned giving program. Over 10% of respondents said yes and more than a one-third said they may be willing to discuss this at a later time.

These positive indications confirm that this would be a beneficial program for the museum to pursue and provides both a clear pool of immediate prospects, as well as long-term prospects. In addition to being a stewardship touch point, the survey provided an opportunity to ask a question directly about donors’ openness to future meetings about philanthropy or engagement opportunities. Asking directly about donors’ willingness to engage in a further dialogue can provide a clear road map for fundraiser outreach, prospect prioritization, and connection-building with constituents.

Are our stewardship efforts effective?

When a large art museum wanted to assess its stewardship efforts to determine how it could increase donor retention, it conducted a donor survey.

The charts that follow revealed a gap in the institution’s stewardship efforts that were most important to its donors. In the first chart, donors said that learning about the impact of their gift (79%) was among the most important aspects of their donor experience, followed by receiving prompt thanks (64%). Much less important, just 10% of donors felt strongly about receiving a commemorative gift.

The donor scorecard featured below consists of 10 metrics related to the donor experience that provide an overview of how the museum’s donors felt about the donor relations program. The scorecard showed that the museum had generally succeeded in “thanking” its donors–87% received prompt and accurate receipts, 80% felt their gift was used as intended, and 79% were satisfied with the acknowledgement or recognition they received. However, only 51% “strongly” understood the impact of their gift. These data points provide the museum with clear ways to impact its donor engagement (shifting donor communication to focus on impact of giving), as well as efforts that can be decreased or eliminated (commemorative gifts). These strategies allow the donor relations team to focus in a more effective and efficient manner.

Planning for an uncertain future

Data is crucial in this time and surveys are an established and effective virtual touch point.

Institutions can look to past trends to forecast for the coming year; however, if they are not hearing directly from their own donors, they are missing essential data that they can confidently trust.

Institutions that are in dialogue with their donors have a clearer road map to help them set goals, identify challenge areas in their fundraising and stewardship efforts, and bring their donors closer via their donors’ preferred engagement methods. By better understanding donors’ interests and behaviors, institutions  can ensure they’re moving forward.


What about my donors and members? If you want to know what your constituents are thinking, SurveyLab can help provide answers to assess how your supporters are responding to this difficult period. Understanding your donor population, at all levels, will allow your institution to make informed choices for the future. Contact Megan at MCollier@grenzglier.com to learn more about SurveyLab or Anne at AKohn@grenzglier.com to learn how arts and cultural organizations can leverage those insights in their work.

Grenzebach Glier & Associates Inc http://gga.ugmade.co/wp-content/themes/gga/assets/img/grenzebach-glier-and-associates-print-only.png
About the author

Anne S. Kohn

Senior Vice President

Anne S. Kohn, Senior Vice President and Arts & Culture practice area leader, brings to the firm more than 15 years of professional experience in the performing arts.   Since joining GG+A, Anne has worked across all sectors of nonprofits with a particular focus and passion for arts and cultural…