Top tips on well-executed Supporter Surveys

Ruthann Richardson, Pareto Fundraising, MFINZ

As a fundraiser, I am a huge fan of the supporter survey. You might run a survey already, probably for the bequest prospecting potential they provide, but are you getting the most out of the overall opportunity?

A supporter survey is a powerful way to open the lines of communication with your supporters, and to show that you welcome, and value, their opinions. They help us to communicate better with our donors by helping us understand more about who they are and why they support us.

In order to make sure you are getting the most out of your supporter survey, there are a few things you should consider:


The language used in the introduction to the survey is incredibly important. It should make the donor feel valued, express how important they are to you, and explain why their vies matter. As most surveys are sent to existing supporters, you don't need to explain what you do. Instead, explain why you are sending the survey and why it is important and helpful that the donor responds.

It is also a good idea to include language to knock down any barriers to completion - let the reader know the survey won't take long (research shows that 12 minutes is the most you can expect to hold anyone's attention).


Section headings should be short, concise, and represnt the questions within that section. You will only really need 3-4 section headings at most, and headings should always make the supporter feel like this survey is about them. This entire piece is all about the donor, and their relationship with you, this is your opportunity to engage with them.


Start your survey with questions that are easy to respond to. The supporter shouldn't have to think too hard, otherwise they may give up on the survey before they even start. This could be asking donorstheir views and opinions on certain areas of your work, or questions to uncover what they know about the services you provide. As the survey progresses, these should move naturally into questions designed to understand what areas of your work or cause are most important to the donor.

As one of the primary aims of a supporter survey is often to move donors towards considering a bequest question, the next set of questions should warm the donor up to it. Remind them about the amazing services / programmes you offer and the incredible impact that they are helping to make possible. And most importantly, they should get them to think about why they started supporting you in the first place.

Research shows that reminding donors why they first supported you can have a positive effect on the number of people who indicate that they would like more information on leaving a gift in their will.

The wording of the bequest question is as important as its placement within the survey. It needs to be warm and emotive, and explain why bequests are so important to your organisation. It should put the donor at ease by encouraging them to look after their family and loved ones first. We know that concern for family can be a barrier, and believe it is best to address this upfront and reassure donors that they can still provide for their family too.

Like with the bequest question, the wording of other prospecting questions you may have chosen to include (eg. monthly giving, major giving, volunteering) should focus less on the benefit to the organisation, and more on the benefit to your beneficiaries. 

Measurable Metrics

In addition to understanding supporter motivations, there are some valuable measures that can be considered which will help you understand how satisfied donors are in their relationship with you. We often include Satisfaction and Donor Commitment scoring questions in the surveys we help our charity partners develop, and have found they can add value as an enhancement to your targeting models, especially for certain groups of donors. 


A supporter survey is the perfect opportunity to enter into two-way communications with your donors. Satisfaction with your service is a critical impacting factor on retention and opening up two-way communication can increase satisfaction levels. Ask if they have any feedback, or alternatively, a personal story to share. This is an incredible way to deepen your relationship with your donors, but you HAVE to be prepared to read them all, and follow up as required.

Response Mechanism

Your survey is really just one large response mechanism. Our testing has shown many donors who respond are happy to include a financial gift as well. The inclusion of an opportunity to give does not suppress response to the survey. My recommendation is always to include an opportunity for supporters to donate as part of the survey. It should be a part of the survey, and like in all your appeals, should include an affirmative statement.

As you work through your supporter survey, really think about each question you include, and ask yourself:

  1. Is this helping the donor feel closer to us, the cause and beneficiaries?
  2. How will it help us communicate better with supporters and grow our programmes?

A well-executed survey will pay dividends to your fundraising programme from financial, donor satisfaction, and retention perspectives.

Ruthann Richardson is a Senior Account Director with Pareto Fundraising and has worked with charities in New Zealand, Australia, and North America for the past 10 years developing their approach to surveys, improving the opportunity to connect with donors in a meaningful way and increasing the impact a survey can have for the organisation.

Top tips on well-executed Supporter Surveys



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