How Secret Shopping Can Improve Your Donation Process

Fundraising by Type

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As a company that develops software, we here at Qgiv know the value of testing our online donation pages to ensure everything is working correctly. Testing your resources is important to make sure that things keep running smoothly at your nonprofit as well. You may be surprised to learn that your nonprofit should be testing more than the functionality of its website and donation forms. Testing the knowledge of your staff and volunteers to make sure they know how to accept donations or steer prospective donors to the proper contact is invaluable to your fundraising team keeping donations coming in. Retailers use secret shopping to test staff on their customer service skills. Your nonprofit can use this technique to test staff and volunteers as well.

Guests to your facilities who come with the intention of making a donation want to be treated well, given correct information, and thanked sincerely and enthusiastically when their donations are accepted. But what happens if a volunteer or staff member goes rogue and inadvertently spreads incorrect information or doesn’t approach donors with the right attitude? The wrong approach can turn prospective donors off and prevent them from supporting your nonprofit now and in the future.

What can you do to ensure the first contact between your organization and prospective donors makes a good first impression and encourages donors to give? Don’t wait to hear of a complaint from a prospective donor before acting. A proactive approach to customer service will ensure that guests will not regret wanting to support your nonprofit.

First, you’ll want to make sure everyone who will work with the public knows the policies and procedures surrounding accepting donations. They should also be provided with a cheat sheet of fundraising department staff contact information should donors need more information. Once armed with information, encourage staff and volunteers to review the resources you provided to be sure they know it.

It’s not enough, however, to assume that everyone will use the information that you provided. This is where acting as a secret shopper can benefit your organization tremendously!

Here’s how it works:

Set aside time to visit one of your facilities, or recruit someone to visit on your behalf if staff and volunteers know who you are. Arm the visitor with questions aimed at testing the knowledge of volunteers and staff. You may also want to have your secret shopper bring a donation in an envelope to test that whoever interacts with them knows the process of accepting donations.

1. When acting as a secret shopper, approach someone you want to test and ask them how you can donate to the organization.

If they can provide all the options available to donors in their answer, great! You can move on to the next question. But if they have trouble answering, this is an opportunity to refresh them on the information. It’s also a great time to reflect on anything your nonprofit could do better to simplify the process. For instance, if the staff member or volunteer is having a hard time remembering the link to your nonprofit donation form, check to make sure your link is simple rather than overly complicated. Remembering a link like is much simpler to remember than Having a simple URL helps your staff recall the link, but also is simple for donors to remember as well. You may find that one simple change makes a big difference in the number of donations received.

2. Once the donation options are briefly explained, ask how donations to the organization are used. Every staff member and volunteer should know what your organization is trying to accomplish and how donations help you reach those goals.

If for some reason the person asked can’t answer, educate them on what the organization does, but make a note to review your website and social media pages to see if information about your nonprofit is easy to find and understand. It would help to have someone unfamiliar with your nonprofit review your website and social media and ask them to provide feedback. It helps to ask this person to explain who you are and what your organization does after they have perused your website and social media content. If they can’t explain it, your website may be too wordy, or the text is too complicated. Take some time to revise the text so that it is easier to understand. If your mission is complicated, it may be worthwhile to develop infographics or videos to provide easily digestible information on your nonprofit.

3. The final question you should ask is if there is anyone you can reach out to for further information about making donations to the organization or for more information about the organization in general.

The staff member or volunteer should be able to name a member of the fundraising department or appropriate team who can answer the question and provide their contact information (or at least easily be able to provide this information directly from their cheat sheet).

If you’re provided with incorrect information or they can’t provide you contact information on a member of the appropriate team, educate the staff member or volunteer about who they can refer donors to.

If they couldn’t provide you with contact information, it may also mean that your fundraising team needs to put in more face time at all your nonprofit’s locations. Building your relationships with other departments will make other employees and their volunteers more inclined to want to help your fundraising team be successful.

4. The final test of the secret shopping experience is to make a mock donation to the organization through the person you were testing.

You’ll want to ask how the donation will get to the fundraising team. You’ll also want to make note of whether or not you received a proper thanks for your donation. You don’t have to provide real money to the organization. You can simply hand over a sealed envelope with donation written on the outside. You’ll know the process was successful if your fundraising team receives the envelope in a reasonable amount of time, your donor was thanked when handing the envelope over, and the process of sending the donation to the fundraising department was thoroughly and correctly explained.

If the staff member or volunteer doesn’t know the process of how donations given in person are delivered to the fundraising team, educate them. It’s important to make sure that your donors can feel at ease that their donation will make it to the department it’s supposed to go to.

If the envelope never makes it to the fundraising team, or takes a long time to get there, find out where the process broke down and figure out what went wrong. Did the envelope get lost? Were staff unsure who to send it to? Was the mock donation stolen by someone? Was the envelope received opened?

Once you’re able to answer what’s happened to the mock donation, see if there is a way to add accountability to the process and make sure every donation is securely delivered directly to the fundraising team. Simplifying the process means cutting down on the number of hands donations pass through before making it to its final destination. Having staff members and volunteers sign the envelope (or an attached note if given a check or cash with no envelope) so a record is kept of everyone who has been involved in the donation’s delivery is a good way to document who is involved in this process.

If your donor was not thanked, this is a good time to go over the importance of donations and donor retention with the staff member or volunteer, so they are aware of how important a proper thank you is.

In the rare instance in which your secret shopper is met with poor customer service or is ignored entirely, this is a sign that further training on customer service and the importance of donors is needed. Educate the test subject or test department on this and test again. You can’t ignore poor customer service as it will hinder your nonprofit’s mission and keep you from reaching your fundraising goals.

If attitudes from staff members and volunteers don’t change after additional training and testing, it may be time to escalate the issue beyond the fundraising department. Speak to department heads and volunteer supervisors to make sure donation process policies and procedures are being adhered to.


Secret Shopping to test your nonprofit’s donation process is not limited to making sure the website and online donation forms work. It’s about making sure staff and volunteers know the policies and procedures outlined in your donation process and adhere to them. Provide those who will interact with the public with cheat sheets and special training on the process and give them cheat sheets with information they’ll need to make prospective donors’ first impressions of your organization a good one. Click the links below to download your Secret Shopping Sample Test Sheet and Staff and Volunteer cheat sheets and implement a secret shopping test today.

Secret Shopping Sample Test Sheet

Nonprofit Staff and Volunteer Common Donor Questions Cheat Sheet

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