Posted by Pamela Kilzer


As a nonprofit organization, you go out into the world and consistently promote your cause: sharing events, encouraging people to volunteer, raising money.

But more often than not, actual data from these actions does not get collected. What made volunteers want to work with your organization? Did your event have a better turnout than last year? When are your donors most likely to give? Questions like these can be answered through the use of valuable surveys within the nonprofit organization (NPO). Because what can be measured can be managed.

When your nonprofit uses surveys to reach out to potential and current constituents, you gain insight into what supporters look for and the success of your programs. So, where do you get started? Let us dive into how to use surveying to improve your organization.

Depending on what information your nonprofit tries to gain, surveys can differ at various stages and have different purposes. For example, a post-event survey has a very different purpose than a general volunteer survey. Some examples of various uses for surveys within an NPO include:

Still, most surveys follow the same general format guidelines.

  1. Choose your survey medium.

    Before you can create the survey, you first have to choose which medium you want to use. Thinking of sending out a general email, using a Google Form or maybe a specific survey tool? There are lots of survey tools online that organizations can use to their advantage. Check out some of your different options and weigh the pros and cons to find which would best meet your needs. Survey tools offer different formats and data collecting options, which can vary depending upon whether they cost money or are free. Do your research beforehand to see which would fit best with your nonprofit’s goals.

  2. 2. Make the survey personal.

    Secondly, make sure the survey feels personal to constituents. If an individual has dedicated their time or money to your NPO, you do not want to thank them with a cold, boring survey. Instead, use the survey as an opportunity to reintroduce your organization, its values, its goals and how these constituents helped you achieve those goals. Between questions or pages within the survey, touch base again on that personal connection—why your nonprofit matters and how your volunteers and donors make a difference. Feeling a personal connection, even during something as simple as a survey, can build a substantial relationship between the NPO and its constituents for the future.

  3. Keep the survey short and simple.

    The perfect survey is short, sweet and to the point. Let us be honest: No one likes filling out surveys, especially if they are long, tedious and take up way too much time. Instead, be respectful of constituents’ time by coming up with questions that gain results but are also simple and few in number. Your NPO will see more responses on surveys that are quick and easy to fill out, rather than on those 10 pages long and take a full 30 minutes.

  4. Avoid guiding questions.

    Questions such as, “Out of all of the wonderful programs this nonprofit has, which has been your absolute favorite?” are considered guiding questions. Guiding questions are far easier to accidentally come up with than their more neutral counterparts. Be sure to carefully read through all of your survey questions beforehand to ensure no questions could potentially sway a constituent one way or the other in their feelings toward the organization. Remember: You want accurate information, not just the good stuff, so the NPO can continue to improve.

  5. Ask open-ended questions.

    Open-ended questions are an excellent way within a survey to gain general insight into what volunteers and donors think and feel. Be careful, though; too many open-ended questions can make donors feel exhausted constantly having to explain themselves. Open-ended questions can also have issues garnering the best measurable data, rather than more specific questions. Be sure to include some within your survey, but have a good balance of both open-ended and multiple choice questions.

  6. Get into the specifics.

    While general and open questions do have their place, specific questions are where your nonprofit can gain the most measurable information to move forward with. Consider your goals with the survey, then be sure to ask specific questions surrounding those goals. For example, if you want more people at your event next year, ask past attendees how likely they would be to recommend the event to their friends and family. Then, offer up an open-ended question for why they would or would not recommend the event.

  7. Learn about the respondents.

    Next, consider demographics within your nonprofit organization. Learn about who the respondents are by asking questions surrounding their age, gender, race or ethnicity—if applicable. If you reach out to current constituents, ask them how long they have volunteered with the NPO or how long they have been a donor. If necessary, learn more about their personal lives, such as how often they volunteer with any organization, or if their family likes to volunteer together. When you learn more about your current constituents, you will have better knowledge on how to move forward with potential constituents.

  8. Test the survey.

    Next, test the survey. Give it to someone close to the nonprofit who has no knowledge of the survey whatsoever to see what they think about it. Get their honest feedback if any questions need to be corrected, are missing data or if something needs to be removed. Be sure to take a step back and look at the survey objectively—not just from the organization’s perspective. Once you have tested it, move toward implementation.

  9. Use the results.

    Finally, once the survey has been conducted and all the data comes in, do not forget to actually use the results. Nothing proves to be more pointless than conducting research, then not using any of the vital information. Take your donors’ and volunteers’ recommendations to heart and put in actual effort to make some of the changes they recommend, whether to a future event, a program or current process. Your constituent base is the most valuable component of the entire NPO, so use their information to your advantage and grow your cause.

If your nonprofit organization wants to measure more data and manage its programs more effectively, try using a survey in these next few months. Use these helpful tips and tricks to implement a survey among your constituents which will help to gain the best information and further your organization.

Want to take your nonprofit organization’s marketing strategy to the next level? Firespring offers helpful materials, webinars and seminars on how your nonprofit can market itself to further its cause. Find out more by calling 877.447.8941 or email hello@firespring.org.


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