Search TXNP

< More Articles

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Share: facebooktwitterdigg

How do “fake” direct mail surveys impact an organization?
Peter Schoewe

June, 2011

The Question: The good news is we have an acquisition control package that has resulted in the strongest response rates we’ve had in six years. So why do we need advice from the experts?

Well, some of our marketing colleagues are concerned that the survey included in our acquisition package is not a “real” survey but rather a solicitation device. Let me assure you, we in development have attempted to explain the purpose of this particular engagement device. However, our marketing colleagues feel that using this strategy has a negative impact on our brand. To support their belief, they are quoting research gathered from individuals who received a direct marketing survey from a financial institution (we know, not comparing apples-to-apples). The research was conducted on non-responders to the “fake” financial services survey. These non-responders felt so negative about this financial institution’s fake direct marketing survey that they said they would never give their business to this particular financial institution. Have you ever encountered concerns about the negative impact a direct mail survey has on an organization? Its brand? Has any research been done on this subject?

The Experts Answer: These fake surveys can be a bad news proposition. Although they almost invariably boost overall response, the long-term impact of their use is uncertain.

In one sense, surveys that are designed purely as involvement devices are similar to front-end premiums in their effects. That is, they increase response and often (not always) lower the average gift, but frequently the combined effect is to lower the acquisition cost. That’s why they’re so heavily favored by direct marketers. However, like many front-end premiums, such surveys might bring in donors of lower long-term value—and they might do damage to an organization’s brand.

The good news is that there is no need to use a fake survey in your fundraising efforts, when a real survey that gives you actionable information can be just as powerful in terms of raising response—while having the added benefit of providing an increased understanding of your donors or your prospective donors.  For example:

  • One of our clients mailed a four-page survey to its best donors, asking them a number of questions about why the donors supported the organization’s work.  Although it wasn’t a scientific sampling, this survey did provide great information about what inspired many of the organizations best donors.  In addition, it turned out to be a great planned giving and major gift lead generator, with many donors indicating that they intended to offer their support with a more significant contribution or a planned gift.
  • Another client uses a staff person or an intern to compile a random sampling of the responses to their survey to share with their staff.  This way, they have garnered interesting donor or prospect information that may indeed help in shaping some messaging, while resting easy in the knowledge that survey is far from being “fake.”

Both points illustration, much of what makes the survey really has to do with how the question is asked.  Questions that are too leading or simple may have an adverse effect, so be mindful of how the question is asked.  “Do you agree that April showers bring May flowers?” “Yes, No, Not sure”  is overly simplistic.  But an example from Rails to Trails Conservancy shows how to create a question that is both engaging and that will provide valuable information. It asked on its donor prospect survey, “When making vacation plans, are areas with trails more attractive to you than those without trails?”  Note that this survey provides the organization with valuable information, while also engaging the donor by the use of the word “you” and by asking a question that has a direct impact on the donor’s life.

So the verdict is that fake surveys indeed are bad—but there is no reason to use them.  If you are careful in writing your survey, you can create an involvement device that encourages response, but also provides actionable information for your organization and your fundraising program.

Peter Schoewe is Senior Account Executive and Director of Analytics, Mal Warwick Associates, 2550 Ninth Street, Suite 103, Berkeley CA 94710-2516, phone (510) 843-8888, fax (510) 843-0142, Web, email

Thank you to Mal Warwick for allowing us to re-preint his great articles.


Your TXNP Weekly E-Newsletter is made possible by the generosity of:

FROST in many Texas cities

TXNP Professional Members Are Dedicated to Texas and Texans.

Aurora Grants & Consulting |Dawson Murray Teague Communications | ELITE Research | FOR THE PHILANTHROPIST | Graystone Consulting | J A Churchill Associates | John F. Lewis PC | McConnell & Jones LLC

Sign up for your personal TXNP E-Newsletter

at-t Meadows Foundation express news HOBLITZELLE FOUNDATION v greenly zachry foundation w b h b bank of america southwest airlines Sid W. Richardson Foundation forst