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March 2, 2020

When Salvation Army Donors Speak, We Listen


Recently, we surveyed over 1,980 donors who gave The Salvation Army $1,000+ in the last year.

But keep in mind, this isn’t your typical post reporting back the results of a donor survey.  You won’t find charts or any statistics.

This is a reflection on what the donors shared.

When donors are interviewed, it’s an opportunity to listen and create a more meaningful connection.  It’s a substantial way to build on the relationship and learn about the individual donor.  Statistics often lump together people who are very different for the convenience of organizing information, and the insight into the heart and mind of the individual is lost in the ones and zeros of the data.

The results of a survey also provide insight into the way we raise money and provide context for the decisions donors make.  Let’s not fall prey to survey blindness and fail to reflect on the meaning (and changes) a donor’s responses should inspire.

We surveyed people who give over $1,000 annually to The Salvation Army — their individual voices are important.

In each conversation, we asked donors about why they gave and if a person inspired their giving.  The one thing that no one said was that the marketing they receive from The Salvation Army inspired their giving.  Donors were introduced to The Salvation Army by another person or through a personal experience in their community.  Fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, and friends told them about the organization’s good work.  Many donors experienced the work of The Salvation Army personally, attending camp as a child or receiving help during a disaster.  The communication they receive affirms their choice and reminds them of what they already know.

It is The Salvation Army’s REPUTATION that inspires giving from these valuable donors.  The reputation of good financial stewardship, impact in the community, helping people without expecting anything in return, and of a mission inspired by faith.

The Salvation Army’s most valuable donors are also deeply connected to their community.  They give to other nonprofit organizations and their faith community.  Their awareness of need is evident in the results.  In regions that have recently experienced a disaster, donors signaled a greater concern in this area.  For donors in larger metropolitan areas and in the West, there is a greater awareness of homelessness.  Their giving is often motivated by a desire to work with others to solve a problem.

Donors give to The Salvation Army because they TRUST that the organization will find need and meet that need.  This is the very essence of Doing the Most Good, and it inspires giving to The Salvation Army.

Having embarked on a RELATIONSHIP with The Salvation Army through their giving, a lot of donors want to take it further and talk to someone at The Salvation Army.  Over half of the donors we surveyed were willing to talk to someone from the organization.  What an opportunity to honor a donor’s loyalty and include them more deeply in the mission of the organization!

Finally, we also asked the donors what The Salvation Army can do to improve.  Reviewing the responses, two key themes emerged: 1) we need to know the donor better, and 2) donor care is a high priority.  One donor shared they get 40–50 requests per month from all kinds of charities.  In this kind of noise, how can The Salvation Army rise above the chaos and be heard?  What pain points exist for donors that cause them to question the value of their giving to the organization?  Each response to the survey pointed to the significance of well-managed donor communication, and to their desire to focus resources on mission and not fundraising.

It is precisely this kind of insight that fuels innovation at TrueSense.  We are a donor-centric agency that is seeking to bring to scale the data tools and practices that allow us to be responsive to the individual donor’s passion and desire for impact in their community.  We explore machine learning because it helps us understand individual donor behavior and can move us away from grouping donors based on a few variables.  Our work to localize and personalize communication is about delivering content that is more meaningful to individual donors.  The hope is that these efforts will allow us to establish more meaningful relationships between the nonprofits we serve and the donors who fuel their important work.

We have accepted the challenge to honor the individual contribution of every donor with equal reverence and appreciation, and our survey process is helping us reach that goal.

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