I’ve written a few posts about the importance and value of audience surveys for non-profits. In the most recent post in the series, I talked about how surveys can be a tool to help you assess what your audience knows so that you can develop a more strategic and directive communications strategy.
Today I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of the most frequently asked questions I receive about audience and donor surveys.
Is it better to send the survey by mail or email?
You should pick the channel your audience typically uses to communicate with your non-profit. Why? Because if you pick a channel that your audience already uses (ie they typically receive snail mail from your organization), you are more likely to see a better response rate. If you are aiming for good response rates (for anything really), that is never a good time to experiment with a new channel.
How many questions should I include in my survey?
I typically recommend asking 8 to 10 questions. The reason I recommend a concise-ish survey is because you want to encourage people to actually finish the survey. If the survey is too long, you might see lower response rates.
All that being said, I did recently talk about a survey with 20+ questions that I thought was really well done.
Will people actually answer demographic questions?
Yes! You can ask questions like “What’s your age range?” or “What’s your household income?”, and I think you’ll be surprised about how many people will answer them.
One thing you can do (generally speaking) to make donors feel more comfortable answer all of the survey questions is to include a note at the top of the survey that says something to the effect of, “All individual survey responses will be kept confidential, though some aggregate data maybe be shared.”
How do I make sure people respond to my survey?
The best advice I can give you is to develop a marketing plan for your survey. This could include giving yourself 2 to 3 weeks to roll out the survey, market it, and follow up with people to increase response rates.
Do I need to add survey responses to records in our database?
You don’t have to. You certainly could ask people for their names as a part of the survey, though I’d recommend making it optional.
If you are doing a donor survey, you might find that being able to record donors’ responses is helpful.
What do I do with all that survey data?
The key thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that it’s most useful to look for trends and high-level. It’s easy to get into the minutia of the survey, but that’s not what will be most useful. You’re trying to identify the trends so that you can make strategic decisions that will be applicable to the majority of your audience. As you might know, it’s a rare time when you’ll produce a communications piece or appeal letter that will resonate with everyone. So your goal is to resonate with the largest segment possible.
Here are some other things you can think about as you analyze your survey data:
#1 – Are the themes in peoples’ perception of the organization?
In surveys, I tend to ask some variation of the question, “What’s one word you would use to describe this organization?” When I look at the answers to this question, I look to see if people are using words that are in the same family. If they are, that means that the organization has a consistent brand and vibe (intentional or not). In some cases when the words are all positive and ones the organization wants to be associated with, we will build out their voice and tone using some of those words.
#2 – What should we keep doing?
If you’ve asked questions that help you assess the effectiveness of your fundraising or communications program, one of the best things you can do is leverage what’s working for your audience. For instance, in one of my survey projects from this past summer, we found out that the organization’s audience really only keeps in touch with the organization via email updates. That meant that email became a priority in the new communications plan and we strategically decided to step back from one social media channel that they were putting a lot of time into.
#3 – What should we stop doing?
Piggybacking off #2, it is beneficial to look at the flip side of the question and consider what you should stop doing. You’ve got a lot of things to do and there is no sense in spending time on activities that are not getting you results.
What other questions do you have about surveys? Leave your questions in the comments below and I’ll answer them for you.