Increasing donor satisfaction and retention starts with listening

Ensuring that donors are satisfied with their giving experience is a vital component of any well-functioning donor relations department. Of course, that’s easier said than done! All too often, institutions have little to no contact with the vast number of donors who give at the lower end of the philanthropic spectrum. As a result, institutions often lack insight into many of their donors’ experiences and conversely, donors have little or no understanding of things like the impact of their gifts or if the institution is listening to them.

To address these shortcomings, the SurveyLab team has developed an automated donor experience survey and results dashboard tool called DX. The survey tool serves three main purposes: it enables institutions to keep a pulse on their donors, it helps identify or surface any issues donors may have experienced, and it builds engagement and trust (and many other good vibes!) with those donors.

By taking the proactive step of seeking to gauge donor satisfaction, institutions are strengthening the foundation of their donor base and putting their development programs in position for long-term sustainable fundraising success.

Why an automated survey makes sense

No institution wants donors going out into the world and complaining or feeling unsatisfied with their philanthropic experience. Just as retailers, airlines, and other consumer-oriented businesses have long leveraged a customer experience (CX) model of research, high-performing nonprofit institutions need to treat donors as their customers and ensure they’re providing excellent service.

In adopting a service-oriented approach for all donors, institutions should focus on such aspects as ensuring donors have a clear sense of how their gift will be used (and that the intended use serves a valuable purpose) and confirming that they are promptly delivering an accurate receipt. These factors are proven to help ensure that donors feel good about their gift, which makes them more likely to continue their support.

The best way to assess how well an institution has instituted a service-oriented approach is to ask donors whether they feel satisfied about their experience. The DX survey aims to measure the various elements that the institution believes are crucial to donor satisfaction. And, by surveying a broad swath of donors, it monitors a constant pulse of the institution’s performance. If anything goes wrong, it can immediately identify that there’s an issue and then provide you with ways to remedy the situation. A prompt response increases the chance of donor retention, as well as the likelihood of increased giving and loyalty.

How it works

Typically 30 days after a donor makes a gift, the institution emails him or her a link to a short survey that he or she can complete in only a couple minutes.

There are also options to include a few custom questions in addition to our recommended slate. The first set of questions seek to assess an individual’s affinity toward the institution, how connected they feel to it, and how loyal they feel to it.

The second set explores the mechanics of the process of making a gift with questions such as “Was it easy to make a gift?” and “Was receipting accurate?”.

The third set examines aspects related to the impact of their gift, such as “Do they understand the impact of their gift?”, or “Do they believe the gift was used as intended?”

In our experience, institutions such as the University of Texas at Austin use DX to ensure they are delivering a higher level of donor experience across all donors so that everyone feels stewarded. It provides a simple way to bolster their efforts, because few, if any, shops have the staff and time to do more than promptly mail a receipt. The survey enables the institution to provide another touch point with donors, and to assure them that they care about, and are responsive to their concerns, while demonstrating they value those who give a few dollars as much as someone giving thousands.

Triggered alerts

We know donors value when an institution is responsive to their needs or concerns. That’s why the tool has a customizable ticketing system that automatically alerts the institution when, for instance, someone reports a poor experience. That enables the institution to quickly respond or identify issues before they take root and become widespread.

For example, Texas’s donor relations program was able to monitor scores relating to receipting when it implemented a new process to confirm that the system was working well. Drexel University uses it to alert prospect managers when their donors submit a survey. That enables prospect managers to immediately monitor what is going on with their donors, what was said, and enables them to reach out as needed.

Beyond alerts, the survey provides institutions with a touch point they can use to discover new areas of philanthropic interest. For example, they can ask donors if they would like information about planned giving, supporting a fund, or any other interests. One planned giving discovery approach in DX that has worked well across institutions is asking donors if they have already included the institution in their will and, if not, whether they would like the institution to send information on how to do so. That approach drove dozens of leads for University of Kansas planned giving officers, which helps maintain a strong planned giving donor pipeline.

There’s always room for improvement

By keeping an institution’s finger on the pulse of its donors they can make sure their donors’ experiences exceed expectations. For example, an annual giving donor who gives the same amount every year may receive the survey and note that he loves the institution, but his name is misspelled on his receipt. That issue may have been an annual occurrence, but the donor may not have bothered to proactively reach out to resolve it. Now, the institution can quickly remedy the situation, let the donor know it has been fixed, and, in doing so, make the donor feel valued.

Unlike one-off surveys, it keeps a watch to ensure no issues are being missed. In effect, it works like an additional full-time donor relations team member who helps bolster your donor relations/stewardship program and increase the crucial metrics of donor satisfaction and retention.


If you would like to learn more about DX or SurveyLab’s many other survey tools, reach out to Royal Rarick at RRarick@grenzglier.com.

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About the author

Royal Rarick

Associate Director, SurveyLab

Royal Rarick serves as Associate Director in the Analytics Practice Area’s SurveyLab, helping clients gain valuable insights from constituents to align donor aspirations with desired philanthropic outcomes.   Royal brings a wealth of experience delivering strategic business development projects for clients, including survey development, data collection and analysis, and communications. Before…