3 Tips to Retain Donors Using Stakeholder Interviews and Surveys

This guest post was written by Andrew Goldsworthy, Director of Client Success & Growth at Rootid. Andrew has over 20 years experience in user interface and digital marketing and fundraising strategies for social entrepreneurs and nonprofits. He is passionate about co-designing strategies to leverage technology and communications to build capacity and impact with mission-driven organizations

It’s no secret that donations make the nonprofit world go round. Each year, countless resources are devoted to attracting new donors in clever, outside-the-box ways. 

It can be tempting to celebrate getting that first gift and consider our work complete! In fact, that first gift is just the beginning of what should be a long journey of building a relationship with donors.

According to a 2018 AFP study, only 45.5% of donors give to a nonprofit a second time! 

Even worse, most donors report that they stop giving as a result of poor communications. Imagine if you could maximize that retention rate—less stress on your fundraising budget, less pressure to drum up new interest. 

The question is: How can we surprise and delight our donors so they love our work and even become advocates for our organization?

Although it can seem daunting when you have a million other things on your to do, ultimately the task is simply getting to know your audience and delivering the right content to them at the right time.

We’ve got 3 tips to get you started!

Tip #1 Use Surveys to Build Personas

What attracted your donors to your organization in the first place? What do they think makes you uniquely qualified to carry out your mission? What’s the best way to communicate with them?

These are all simple questions, but frequently we don’t take the time to ask. 

Surveys are a great way to collect a large amount of data about your donor base, and they don’t tie up a lot of staff bandwidth. Furthermore, asking donors about their opinion shows you care, which is a great starting point for any relationship.

A few tips for conducting surveys: 

  • Keep your surveys short, 2-3 minutes max.
  • If you’re surveying frequently—and you should—it may help to focus on one topic at a time.
  • Make your supporters feel heard and invested.

The results will produce patterns that allow audiences to be grouped by their motivations, behaviors and interests. This process of grouping individuals by their motivations and behaviors nonprofit personas.

Nonprofit personas are semi-fictional characters who represent your ideal constituent. 

Personas allow us to build better messaging and campaign strategies. Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to relationship building. We need to understand who we are talking to in order to be successful at delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time using the right marketing channel.

Most organizations have 3-5 personas to more effectively tailor their communications. Once you’ve established your personas, make sure you share with the rest of your organization. Remember your board, volunteers and other team members are just as important to building donor relationships as you are. Keep them informed about your donors interests, concerns and habits.

Tip #2 Test Your Personas with Stakeholder Interviews

Now it’s time to test the validity of those personas by conducting stakeholder interviews—or, one-on-one conversations with those who have a vested interest in your organization, i.e. board members, senior staff, junior staff, community partners, a sampling of those you serve, etc.

Designing the interview

Your first step will be to set a goal that helps focus the interview’s outcome. By interacting with these people, what do you hope to accomplish?  

Example Goals:·       

  • Define audiences
  • Create engagement strategies
  • Develop messaging
  • Refine your visual brand
  • Experience – website, event, etc.
  • Improve programs, services or internal/external processes

Your second step will be to write a few high-level questions—bearing in mind, these are not questions you want the stakeholder to answer but questions your team should be able to answer at the end of the process.

Example High-level Interview Questions:

  • Do people understand who we are and what we do?
  • Do people understand the breadth and depth of the organization’s value and experience?
  • How is our organization uniquely positioned compared to other organizations like ours?
  • How has our organization’s mission impacted our local community?
  • What programs will help us serve our clients better?
  • How can we increase the number of first-time donors that continue to give to our organization?

Your interview’s goal and sought answers will determine the line of questioning you should pursue. To help, we’ve put together a list of more than 150 example interview questions in our stakeholder interview guide.

Running the Interview

Regardless of what ends up in your script, the key is to practice, practice, practice until you’re comfortable guiding the conversation. Ideally, it will be recorded (using a tool like Zoom or WebEx), which will allow you to review, code and analyze the data more effectively.

We break the interview process into two rounds:

  1. Exploration – This round focuses on understanding who your personas are, their motivations and goals, their relationship to your organization, and how they interpret your ‘Why’ and ‘How’.
  2. Feedback – This round typically involves sharing prototypes, experiences or examples of work to get stakeholder feedback.

In order to identify themes in the responses, your best bet will be to interview at least 2-3 people per persona. We recommend that you:      

  • Take the time to listen and learn. If you’re tempted to fill a lull, count to 10 and then speak. The stakeholder may be thinking, so give them space to do this.·       
  • Ask for feelings and reactions during the interview. If you’re using a prototype, design or messaging examples, one of the best data points you can get from interviews are feelings and gut reactions.
  • Confirm intent by parroting answers. Parroting is not meant to be an antagonistic approach but rather to bookmark important things you are hearing. As the interviewer, if you hear something important, start by saying, “You said something important there that I want to be sure I understand.” Say what you think you understood, and then ask if that is correct. If yes, great. If not, ask them to clarify further.
  • Use transitional phrases when switching context. During the interviews, you may hit on several areas of focus. When shifting to a new area, provide clear signals to the stakeholder. Use transitional phrases like, “I want to shift our focus to X….” Then ask the question.

Analyzing the Interview

Rootid uses a process called Thematic Analysis to analyze the information we gather from stakeholder interviews. Here’s a quick summarization of the process:

  1. Gather all of your data. If you were able to record the call, transcribe it (either manually or via a program like Otter.ai).
  2. Read through everything. Listen or read through all of your call data again. You may have missed some key themes while running the call.
  3. Code the text. Start by tagging your transcripts based on what the conversation is about. If you’re not using a digital tool like Otter.ai, write out quotes on sticky notes and organize them into the tags.
  4. Create a set of terms. Consolidate your tags into specific, overarching themes. These themes are going to provide key insights in your analysis process.
  5. Take a break. Wait 24 hours or more. Let the process marinate.
  6. Evaluate and summarize. Evaluate your themes and see which data is most important to answer your goal question. Summarize those findings in a report that you can share.

Themes You Find in Stakeholder Interviews

  • Attitudinal themes emerge as thoughts, beliefs or values, experiences, and self-reported needs or motivations that drive the individual’s behaviors.
  • Behavioral themes, on the other hand, come across as emotional or physical reactions that rely on your ability to analyze tone. How do things resonate with them?

Bonus: Effective Tools for Running Surveys and Stakeholder Interviews

There are a lot of different tools out there that can get you started with surveys.  Here are a few ideas:

    • SurveyMonkey – You may have heard of this service before. It’s probably the most popular and well known survey provider. SurveyMonkey allows you to build free surveys up to 10 questions, and you can embed them on your website.  They also have great reporting!
    • TypeForm – This is another popular survey provider that has similar features to Survey Monkey, and provides a Freemium model. You can build free surveys up to 10 questions and 100 responses per month. TypeForm integrates well with services like Google Sheets and MailChimp, so you could use these surveys to build reports or automated marketing campaigns.
    • Google Survey – As with everything Google, this is a simple and useful product.  They do charge 10 cents per survey completed. So, be aware that there is a cost.  But, the surveys are easy to create and really simple to embed on your website.
    • Your CRM (Warning: This can be POWERFUL!) – Many CRM’s have a way to create web-to-lead forms which can be used to take surveys or add data to a CRM user profile.  This means that if you were surveying someone that already exists in your CRM, the survey answers would be stored in your CRM.
  • Why is the CRM method so powerful?
    Let’s say, through welcome surveys, you find a donor is more interested in your program X than in your program Y. Then, the next time you ask for a donation, you tailor the ask to support program X. Talk about improving response rate!

Tip #3 Delight Your New Donors with an Onboarding Series

Remember how donors reported that communications was the biggest reason why they didn’t give a second gift?  There’s an easy way to address this in order to build a long-term relationship with your donors.

By creating a donor onboarding series using email automation, you can quickly deliver information to new donors that will build long-term relationships with them and also gather additional details about their interests.

Now, don’t get scared by the fancy name, email automation is a way to automatically send a series of emails to new donors without you ever needing to lift a finger.

The best part, email platforms like MailChimp, Constant Contact, ActiveCampaign, CampaignMonitor and Pardot do this now.  There are even some free tools that allow it!

Here’s a quick blueprint for new donor onboarding. 

Email #1: Thank You!

Send this immediately after the gift is made. Reinforce their decision to give by talking about the impact the donation will provide.

Bonus: if you can make the Thank You content a video from your Executive Director, Board Chair, or someone that has been impacted by your work, even better!

Email #2: Your Vision

Donors frequently report that they select a nonprofit to support based on their vision of the future. Use this second email to clarify what your organization envisions your work leading to.

Highlight your strategic plan or talk about an ambitious goal your organization has set, and how your new donor will be a key part of achieving that goal.

In short, be clear about why your organization is uniquely positioned to create impact, how you create that impact, and what the specific activities are to get there.

Email #3: What Do They Care About?

Send an email asking what the donor cares about? What programs or topics resonate with them most.  You can ask them to take a short survey or a poll. 

Frame the email in a way that lets them know you are listening. By telling you what they care about you can tailor information that you deliver to them.

Asking what they care about shows that you are interested in their input, and that is the start of a great relationship!

Email #4: Impact Story

Deliver a story about an individual or a community that was impacted by the work you are doing. Make it specific.

Tie that story to the broader problem that your organization is solving, and make it clear that supporting your work will continue to help serve individuals or communities like the one depicted in your story.

Email #5: The Next Ask

You do not need to ask for money immediately. But, invite your new donor to experience your community in more depth. Do you have a program, event or other experience that the donor might like?  Invite them.

Once a new donor has seen and experienced another side of your organization, the more likely they are to become an advocate of your work and give again.

Putting it all Together

You’ve surveyed your donors, created your personas, and validated them through stakeholder interviews. After sifting through the data, you uncovered themes that will vastly improve the content and tone of your messaging. Now all that’s left to do is apply it.

Use the survey results to segment your database and deliver messaging that reinvigorates your supporters. Start getting feedback on the donor experience after events, volunteer opportunities, etc. There’s a world of possibilities out there, and now you’ve got a compass.