Surveys for nonprofits

Surveys are a potent way to find out about your clients and guide decisions about service delivery and communications strategies.
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What can I find out?

Online surveys are a fantastic tool to find out more about your community. They can tell you, among other things:-

  • How well they understand your message.
  • How and where they want to hear from you.
  • What capacity (and interest) they have in donation and volunteering.
  • What they see as the organization’s priorities.

Yet, only 24 per cent of nonprofit staff surveyed reported using their social media communities to conduct market research in the 2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report.

It’s time to open your ears.

Before you start

Wild Apricot’s Lori Halley has five tips for nonprofits conducting surveys.

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Choose the right tool


There is an astounding number of online survey systems available, each with a slightly different set of tools and fee structures.

Idealware suggests nonprofits might want some of the following:-

  • Flexible look and feel allows you to personalize the survey and make it clear your organization is responsible.
  • Skip logic allows users to skip sets of questions that are not relevant For example, the survey skips further questions on dog ownership when they answer no to having a dog.
  • Piping pulls parts of a question into another question, based on their answers. This might be useful if someone answered that they followed you on Twitter – you might ask them what kind of content they would like to see there.
  • Randomization helps avoid bias based on question order.
  • Website integration allows you to embed the survey on your own website.
  • Data analysis is commonly a more expensive tool but one that helps you understand and extrapolate data more easily.

Their comparison of popular survey tools is here.

Make your research count


Results of my first big survey – for a health nonprofit – were surprising, rich and comforting. They were also completely useless for the purpose I had intended.

Though I had researched well the best way to ask questions, tested it and promoted it well, I had failed to take into consideration the specific needs of the government auditing procedure I had hoped the survey would answer. I failed to think it through before I started and wasted a lot of company time and the goodwill of our community.

Market research consultant Lee Crockett says the Cardinal rule of good surveys is that they are well thought out and planned.

“You should spend much more time on the front end than on the back end,” he wrote in a blog about surveys for nonprofits.

He had some other advice, including allowing anonymous participants and unanswered questions, and warned nonprofits to be wary of sampling bias.

“You can’t test awareness of a program or upcoming event if the source of the research sample is your newsletter’s mailing list,” Mr Crockett wrote.

“Your member database will give you your member’s perspective, not the community’s.”

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