Eight Tips for Creating Your Own Survey

So you want to survey your members, donors or other constituents for feedback on a program or project? If you haven’t created a survey before, don’t fret. Just keep in mind certain rules and the rest will follow. Here are eight tips for writing an effective survey.

  1. Define the purpose. The first — and most important — task in creating a survey is to define its main goal. What does your nonprofit want to learn from respondents? How will you use the data you collect? Say that you’re planning to build a new recreation center. You’d want to ask specific questions — for example: what hours and days of the week would you most likely use the pool? How much would you be willing to pay per visit? Would you use the pool mainly to swim laps? Respondents’ answers would provide guidance for making construction and programming decisions.
  2. Keep your survey short. Ideally, it should take no longer than five minutes to complete a survey. Online survey maker SurveyMonkey says six to ten minutes is acceptable, but it sees “significant abandonment rates” after ten minutes.
  3. Get some online help. Speaking of SurveyMonkey, it’s one of the popular online survey tools. For free, your nonprofit can create a basic survey with 10 questions and 100 responses. SurveyMonkey also sells nonprofit templates in areas including volunteer satisfaction, donor feedback, fundraiser event planning and market research. Other survey tools include Google Forms, SurveyGizmo and Typeform. Each has certain benefits in terms of pricing, creativity or the ability to analyze your results.
  4. Consider offering an incentive. According to research, people are significantly more likely to complete a survey if they’re offered an incentive. And the response rate increases with the value of the incentive given. If you do offer one, choose an incentive that’s appropriate.
  5. Speak their language. When devising the survey, speak the language of the target audience. Avoid industry jargon and technical lingo, and don’t assume the surveyee knows the ins and outs of your organization or its field. If you’re going to make an insider’s reference, explain it.
  6. Structure your survey logically. Begin with a brief introduction that explains the survey’s purpose and importance. Then, group similar questions together to create continuity. Place easy questions at the beginning of the survey and more difficult or sensitive questions, such as those about income or ethnicity, at the end. Your goal should be to engage the respondent throughout the entire survey, so try to:
    • Present one idea per question.
    • Use closed-ended questions whenever possible — they’re much easier for the survey taker and easier to analyze than open-ended questions.
    • Keep rating scales consistent throughout the survey.
    • Give special attention to multiple choice questions; for instance, provide respondents with all options for answering, including “not applicable” or “don’t know.”
  1. Avoid bias and pledge privacy. Take care not to lead respondents to answers that you would like to hear. Avoid loaded words and strong language, and consider seeking the services of a survey professional to ensure objectivity. Also, remember that privacy is important to most people. Reassure respondents at the beginning of the survey, or in a cover letter, that their replies will remain confidential.
  2. Test and remind. Try out your finished survey on staff or a small sample of your target audience. Time their responses and ask for feedback. You would want to find out if any questions were confusing. Once the survey has been distributed, don’t hesitate to send out reminders to potential respondents you haven’t heard from. According to some survey experts, sending several reminders may boost response rates.

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