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This article was originally published by Mighty Citizen. An edited version is republished here with permission.
One of my first questions for any new nonprofit client is: How good is your data?
I’m not asking if they have data, but how good is it? As a marketer, I want to build communication strategies that are founded on research and real insights from everyday donors. I want to know what your donors care about, how they want to be communicated with, and what kind of content resonates with them. This information allows your nonprofit to better engage your donors and leads to long-term benefits like increased and repeat donations.
Without data, your communication strategies are likely to be built on gut feelings and opinions. The beauty of data is that it negates opinions. Data can guide us; it can be a beacon of truth in a sea of opinion.
If you’re like most nonprofits, you have data available, but it’s either 1) housed in many different tools, rendering it cumbersome and useless, or 2) limited to basic insights like “total lifetime giving amount.”
If so, let’s take a gander at how to collect useful donor data without being annoying. Why do I say “without being annoying?” Because most donors view survey questions as a nuisance, in the way of a task they’re trying to complete, like filling out your donation form.
Option 1: use your thank you page as a data collection point
On your website, your thank you page can be an unbelievably valuable asset if used correctly. After all, your donor feels great about the commitment they’ve just made and is more likely to continue giving—this time, in the form of information.
Often, nonprofits use their thank you pages to say nothing more than “thanks for the donation.” But what if you popped a couple of questions around donor motivation onto your thank you page? For example, you could ask “What motivated your donation today?” and offer up three to five optional answers. You could also offer a text field if they wanted to provide additional info.
Or you could ask “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” Or, if your marketing strategy benefits from it, you could ask their age, what part of town they’re in, or which of your programs they care about most.
There’s a plethora of questions you might ask to help you segment your donors for future campaigns. The thank you page is a great place to get answers.
Option 2: send a quick donor survey
Has your organization conducted a donor survey? Was it short? Probably not short enough.
The inclination is to create a donor survey that allows you to find out anything you could ever possibly want to know about your donors. (Favorite color, everyone?!) You must resist this inclination!
Instead, put a survey link in your donor’s email receipt. Remember, they’re feeling good about that donation they just made. They’re looking for a receipt in their inbox to confirm the donation went through successfully. And now, within that same email, you’re simply asking them to tell you how you might serve them best by answering a short 3-5 question survey that takes less than 2 minutes to complete. Emphasize how quick and easy this survey will be, and make sure it is!
Using this strategy, the survey is not a cumbersome initiative for your nonprofit. It simply rolls out on a continual basis whenever a donation is made. And with a seamless integration of your donor database, you can ask different questions each time the donor gives.
Option 3: ask them during the donation process
I’ll be honest, I don’t like this option as much. That’s why it’s down here at the bottom! This option requires that you include a couple of questions for donors to answer as they’re filling out your donation form (online and off).
I’m hesitant to recommend this to our clients because I never want donors to fill out more than they have to in the process of donating. The less friction in the donation experience, the better. We don’t want them having to think too much. But sometimes—depending on your donation form software and internal IT resources—this is the fastest and easiest route.
If you take this approach, ask questions that might enhance the donor’s experience, like “Which of our programs most interest you?” or “How best should we communicate with you?” This is not the time to ask age or income or any other question that might give potential donors pause. My recommendation is to ask no more than 2 of these questions in your donation form.
Ask questions that might enhance the donor’s experience.
Test, and test again
I’m admittedly biased toward some of these options over others but you should test all of the options to see what works best for you. Test all of the options and see what gains the most traction with your particular donors.
Keep in mind that if you don’t receive a large quantity of online donations, you’ll want to test over a longer period of time to make sure you’ve got enough data to accurately compare your options.
Now, go get your data!
I hope you’re now primed and ready to learn valuable information about your donors so you can serve them better. Not only does this require some forethought, but you’ll likely also need to tap into your IT pro or an outside consultant to set your systems up properly so this doesn’t become a manual burden for your team. But once you’ve got the machine running, you’ll never look back!