Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.

How to Use Online Surveys at Your Nonprofit

How to Use Online Surveys at Your Nonprofit

It's important to find tools that help your nonprofit measure its success. The good news? Online surveys can do just that.

Surveys Measure Attitudes

We can think of data as falling into two categories: the way people think, and the way people act. Surveying helps capture the first: understanding what people think. That information can also sometimes help you to understand why people behave in a certain way. Anytime you have a "why" question about your organization and how people interact with it, a survey can enable you to answer that question.

The big idea behind running a survey is to collect data and then turn that data into content and action. In this way, you're using data to make informed decisions.

Assess Your Impact With Surveys

Nonprofits don't rely on the same financial and operational metrics that commercial organizations do. And, therefore, they face a unique challenge in determining which data to use to guide their strategy. Surveys can serve as a way for nonprofits to determine how they're doing.

There are many different types of surveys, including competitive analysis, brand awareness, and customer satisfaction. When thinking about which survey type to use, remember that, for nonprofits, surveys are all about measuring impact.

Two Types of Data Collection

In research, there are two broad models for collecting data: quantitative (numbers-based) and qualitative (descriptive). Both of these elements can give you insight and can be used within the same survey, but it's important to make sure you're analyzing them as separate entities.

An added benefit of qualitative methods is that you can use open-ended questions to address things you may not have specifically asked about. For example, you can add a question such as, "Tell us something we haven't asked you but you have thoughts on." Adding such a question is a way of allowing the survey taker to give you information you didn't know you needed.

Choose From a Variety of Types of Questions to Get New Insights

Within the QuestionPro platform there are many different question types to choose from, making it easy for any organization to build a survey around the topic or topics it is curious about. It's important, however, to ask questions that require survey takers to think about their experience before answering. For instance, asking, "How satisfied are you?" versus "Are you satisfied?" can encourage a longer and more insightful response.

And do note that many survey platforms offer survey templates or question libraries that give you predefined questions to work off of when making your survey.

Make Sure Your Brand Is Carried Through

It's also important to bring your brand identity into a survey by customizing its themes and adding your logo. Surveys represent your brand, so it's crucial to customize them so as to ensure consistency with the rest of your content offerings. Consistent branding can also improve your response rates.

Surveys Are a Versatile Tool

The spectrum of questions you can answer with surveys is broad and includes things like employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, volunteer engagement, and how well a program is functioning. 

Try not to be limited by what you think a survey can be used for. For instance, a survey can be used as a mechanism to validate some piece of data that was already known but perhaps not completely accepted by the entire organization. Or, it can be used to validate something you merely have a hunch about.

Use Satisfaction Data to Show Trends Over Time

To measure the success of your nonprofit, you can employ a variety of approaches to address the goals you hope to achieve. The first of these is to measure program satisfaction. Simply put, satisfaction measurement is done by asking folks what they think about the work or programs that are being delivered by your organization.

When measuring program satisfaction, it's helpful to create a template survey that can be used over and over, with minor modifications to reflect changing circumstances (date, topic) or the fact that it's an entirely different program.

By reusing a survey that you've customized, satisfaction measurement also can give you longitudinal data that allows you to see how the level of success is changing (or not) over time. Some questions you can answer with longitudinal satisfaction data include:

  • Are we getting better at delivering this program?
  • Are we doing it frequently enough?
  • If people are less satisfied over time, why?

Survey data can also be used to support post-grant reports and proposals, with program satisfaction on a year-over-year basis serving as a benchmark for success.

Let Pre- and Post-Tests Help Tell the Story of Your Success

Pre- and post-tests help you determine whether people are learning new things over time. The idea behind pre- and post-tests is to give participants the same assessment before and after participating in a program to measure any increase in their knowledge. Such tests also enable survey takers, the organization, and anyone who is interested in the progress of the organization to see what kind of growth happens as a result of certain efforts.

You can even use pre- and post-tests to measure impact outside the survey respondents' immediate involvement with your organization. For example, you can survey participants immediately following completion of a program and then follow up with the individuals several years later to determine how they may have benefited from program over time.

Using pre- and post-tests provides you with powerful information about your impact, and that can make an immediate impression on people who are interested in your work. When you're seeking support or greater engagement from folks who rely on data to make decisions, providing them with such information can help them quickly see that you are in fact effective at what you do.

Use Demographic and Evaluation Surveys to Engage People and Improve Your Board

Engaging your board can be a challenge. Here are a few ways to not only engage your board members, but to assess their potential for recruitment and fundraising.

Within QuestionPro, the Board Matrix is an excellent way to track information about your board. Think of it as an inventory tool that allows you to collect and keep all kinds of helpful information, including demographic, experience, and community connections, in one place. And by creating a list of the known attributes of your board members, you can use QuestionPro to aggregate the data to create a summary. That way, you can quickly assess and understand where gaps may exist and use that information in your future board recruitment efforts.

Additional Resources: Surveying for Nonprofits

Vivek Bhaskaran is a software developer and entrepreneur and the founder of QuestionPro and SurveyAnalytics. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.