Too often, marketing is a one-way street, an avenue for organizations to merely “talk at” their members and supporters. Smart marketers, heads of development and executive directors understand that it’s just as important to know what their constituencies are thinking about all the issues that impact their favorite causes. Ignoring constituent feedback, or only sporadically collecting input with no real plan or intent to put that feedback to use, is a risky proposition that can cause you to become disconnected from your most vital audiences and severely impact your organization’s mission.
Online surveys are an effective tool for gathering feedback from the widest range of your constituents, not just the most vocal minority. Spending time with volunteers, talking with members and connecting at events is a great way to stay connected. However, those casual conversations are too often seen as a replacement for understanding the thoughts and concerns of those you serve. An online survey program lets you accurately understand the point of view and opinions of every constituent who spares you the few minutes it takes to complete a survey. Additionally, the anonymous component of an online survey is a draw for many members to share feedback that they may not otherwise share.
Determine your focus
The first step in creating a successful survey program is to decide what you would like to learn from your members. A regular series of surveys can be a roadmap for your communications, but only if you know where to turn. Are you looking to expand your membership, get closer to your donors, increase donation or inspire more volunteers? A survey can help determine your direction. Some popular topics for regular surveys include:
Membership needs assessment
Post-event attendee satisfaction
Once you’ve identified the main objective for your survey, the next step is to write your questions. Use the following list as a guide to help you craft your survey questions, and you’ll be well on your way to creating an effective survey that delivers results you can act on immediately.
1. Write questions that are easy to understand and to the point. The goal is to write a question that your members can easily understand, without having to reread it. Use simple language and phrase the question as if you were talking to a friend.
2. Reduce ambiguity. Avoid words and phrases that are left to the survey participant’s interpretation. Words like most, numerous, many, several, etc. mean different things to different people. You want to use words that are more commonly understood, such as almost all, a majority of, almost none and a few, to get better results.
3. Limit the number of ranking options. When you ask your respondents to rank items in order of preference or importance, try not to surpass six items. Asking them to rank a long list can result in an abandoned survey. If your list is longer, think about breaking it into two questions to help ensure completed surveys.
4. Avoid questions that could have two meanings. It’s easy to do this without realizing that you’re actually asking for one answer to more than one question. Here’s an example: “How much would you be willing to donate or spend on an auction item at an event?” This type of question is problematic because it asks the respondent to give one answer for two different questions. In this case, someone might be willing to spend more money on an auction item than a straight donation (or vice versa). By asking two different questions, you will get a much more accurate answer.
5. Offer an “out” for questions that don’t apply. Some members can’t or won’t answer certain questions because they don’t have the experience or aren’t really sure how they want to respond. For these situations, you should offer a “Does not apply” or “Don’t know”
option for them to select.
6. Have some fun! Of course, the goal of your survey is to gain valuable information from your membership to better the actions of your organization. But your survey does not have to be all business. Include at least one question that will help you to understand the personalities and other interests of your membership. This, in turn, may help you determine future events or topics for your member communications. For example, consider asking what kind of social gathering members prefer – a wine tasting, art gallery reception or outdoor event, for example.
Once you’ve completed the questions in your survey, match them against the list of best practices above and keep in mind your original reason for gathering feedback. Focus on the information you hope to gain from your members, and eliminate questions that don’t lead to answers supporting your main goals. It’s also worth it to have a colleague review your questions for tone and ease of reading, and let this person test the survey before sending it out to make sure it works properly.
Once you begin receiving regular feedback from a broader segment of your constituency, you’ll begin to understand how you can best serve everyone, including those that care and matter but aren’t vocal enough to make their opinions known otherwise. Incorporating the feedback you receive into action will foster a sense of belonging in your members, increasing overall involvement and excitement in your organization.