I Love it when a Plan Comes Together!

(With thanks to Hannibal Smith and "The A Team")

What do you want for your birthday? It’s a simple question that’s been asked by most people at some point in their lives.

So why is it that fundraisers don’t just ask donors what they want? Or find out what they’re about?

I “preach” this often — being direct, straightforward, and authentic when communicating with existing or prospective donors. These questions can be asked in a direct conversation, at a group meeting (as appropriate), or even online, and the answers are typically enlightening and very useful. What’s more, just asking helps to create and strengthen long-term relationships.

But what about asking questions of your entire database, or a particular segment of your database? Going person to person is unwieldy and often too resource-dependent. Happily, the gods of the internet have given us a tool that makes this super easy! Tools to create your own online survey have been available for decades, and most of them are super simple to use — and they’re often free (or nearly free).

Also, for impatient people like me, results are nearly immediate.

Having said that, most nonprofits seem to put online surveys low on their priority list. In the business world, no consumer products or corporate identity or promotions group would think of interacting with their prospective customers without doing a whole lot of customer research (including surveys) to determine what their customers want and don’t want. For reasons that I can only guess at, nonprofits just don’t seem to do this.

But times are changing, and online surveys by nonprofits have begun to be used far more often than ever before. Perhaps this is due to pressure from the pandemic to try new ways to interact with donors and prospects — or maybe it’s seen as a way of communicating with donors when staff resources are limited. Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled to see this happening.

If you’re part of a nonprofit organization and you’re not sold on this concept of querying donors via online surveys, perhaps this story will help.

In late Fall, I was contacted by a friend, Elad Dvash-Banks, who runs development for IKAR, a renowned, leading-edge synagogue and community in Los Angeles. Elad’s organization is locally-based, but because of moving everything online (due to Covid), their accessible and compelling programming was available to anyone in the world who had a decent internet connection. Because of that world-wide access, over 30,000 viewers experienced IKAR’s High Holiday services in 2020, including people from 27 countries outside of the US. When about 500 people outside of Los Angeles and the US not only accessed the programming but donated, Elad wondered how best to engage these folks further. In “normal” times, engagement would have been via in-person meetings or a tour of their facilities, but that wasn’t an option for these out-of-towners.

I suggested that Elad query these new “friends” via an online survey. The survey was designed to find out more about these new donors (some who gave tiny amounts, but still…), and to see what they were about and what they desired in terms of their relationship with the organization.

A short time later, Elad emailed me with a quick summary of the results, which he kindly let me share here:

“I wanted to follow up with you regarding the new donor’s survey you inspired me to do. It was a huge success and we got a 70% response rate with some really insightful feedback from new donors.

To be frank, most of them were surprised we even care about their opinion and that we are not asking them for any money — just their opinion.

It was proof of everything you talk about in your book – the personalized and donor-specific approach. We followed up with the people who wanted to be followed up with and left alone the ones that just responded and said please don’t contact me.

Some new donors had great ideas for us in terms of engaging members from afar and a few weeks after they filled out the form, some even made a donation stating “just because you care” — the nicest type of donation we can get.”

I think that email speaks for itself, no?

Many organizations feared for their survival (with good reason) in the early months of the pandemic. Those who got beyond the fear and seized the time as one of possibility have accomplished things that likely none of us would have ever thought of, like IKAR and so many others.

Carpe diem!


I’m thrilled to share my first book, Philanthropy Revolution, with the world. I’m lifting the lid on our charitable sector with an authentic account that describes exactly how outdated the sector has become and why it’s at risk of collapse. Get your copy here.

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- Lisa