534 random Canadians recommend you adapt fundraising worst-practice — are you listening to them?

Okay, someone did another study. They asked 1,027 online respondents in Canada to answer questions about their attitudes around charitable giving. It’s reported on the AFP website here: New Survey Looks at How Charities Are (And Are Not) Connecting With Donors in Canada.

Predictably, various fundraisers are talking about these survey results as if they reveal actual donor behavior (See What brand is your thank you? and No “Thank You”!) Big mistake.

Here’s the survey finding that’s being bandied about: 52% of the respondents disagreed that not receiving a thank-you message would decrease their likelihood of giving in the future. Yeah, you’ll have to re-read that to understand it. It comes out to a slight majority saying they don’t really need to be thanked for giving.

Which may be what those survey respondent think, but it’s bad, bad, bad fundraising advice. Almost everyone who has looked into the power of thanking has seen in real life that thanking promptly, often, and well improves retention and other donor giving metrics.

So what’s up with the survey? Why is it so divergent from reality?

Surveys don’t report the same information as watching behavior. They tell us what people are willing to say out loud. And that’s why surveys rarely give us actionable knowledge. In many cases, they don’t even approximate reality, but have findings directly opposite real behavior.

If you really want to know what people do, watch what they do. Asking them in a survey won’t tell you.

Because donors are human — in all the glorious, crazy, surprising diversity of humanity — there are no doubt donors who really don’t need to be thanked. It’s possible that there are donorfiles that have congregated meaningful numbers of that kind of donors. If there are such files, it may be that thanking donors is not useful for those organizations. It’s theoretically possible.

But not likely.

When you see a survey that makes a claim about what donors do, or say, or want — take it with a grain of salt. If it’s in opposition to something you know to be factually true, you can ignore it. If survey findings might be true, test it for yourself. Sometimes survey findings might spark a different but more relevant question you should test.

But never make the horrendous mistake of letting survey findings tell you exactly what to do. That’s like letting a random stranger on the street tell you the right way to do your job.


Comments

2 responses to “534 random Canadians recommend you adapt fundraising worst-practice — are you listening to them?”

  1. Perhaps the issue is that we have to look beyond face value to see what the data may be telling us. The point that I made in my blog post (that started this whole discussion and that you were kind enough to reference) is that the data may be telling us something about the way in which we thank donors. Perhaps it is true that a majority of donors don’t need another form letter or email in order for them to give again. Maybe the data is telling us that we need to pay greater attention to the form and content of a thank you (which was my concept of the branded thank you). Many of those who commented on The Agitator agreed with that premise. Inasmuch as I agree that its dangerous to take survey data at face value, it may be equally dangerous to dismiss data that makes us uncomfortable or challenges our beliefs.

  2. Perhaps the issue is that we have to look beyond face value to see what the data may be telling us. The point that I made in my blog post (that started this whole discussion and that you were kind enough to reference) is that the data may be telling us something about the way in which we thank donors. Perhaps it is true that a majority of donors don’t need another form letter or email in order for them to give again. Maybe the data is telling us that we need to pay greater attention to the form and content of a thank you (which was my concept of the branded thank you). Many of those who commented on The Agitator agreed with that premise. Inasmuch as I agree that its dangerous to take survey data at face value, it may be equally dangerous to dismiss data that makes us uncomfortable or challenges our beliefs.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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