Embrace the Power of Surveys to Inform Big Decisions

We’ve worked with clients to employ a variety of techniques to get usable results from surveys. Here are some of our takeaways from our work.
Good Use or Bad Use of Survey Website

Tuned in social impact leaders understand that the people engaged with their organization want to be involved. Your cause is something they care about and the time and financial support that they give are only two expressions of that involvement.

One area of involvement that’s easy to overlook is supporter and beneficiary input through surveys. When done well, a survey can help you gain a more nuanced understanding of your audiences, the needs and perceptions of the beneficiaries of your work, and provide you with data that can help you make decisions and improve your digital strategy and communications.

How We Use Surveys

At Cosmic, we help social impact leaders gain outside perspective on their audiences and how they are perceived by their funders, advocates, supporters and the people they serve. In addition to conducting qualitative interviews with these stakeholders, we often also design and facilitate surveys to gain a broader understanding.

During our rebranding project with Cabrillo College, we conducted a survey to gather student input during our early concepting phase. We were able to quickly get a pulse on which design directions were resonating with the students and which concepts were not. Equally important, it generated buy-in across their two campuses, aiding in the adoption of the new brand. Students are powerful advocates for community colleges and having their support for the new brand was critical.

Are you thinking of making a big change to your branding, policy work, or area of focus? A survey could help you bring your supporters and beneficiaries on board. Getting information from your audiences gives you data that you can use to make better-informed decisions.

Below are six benefits of facilitating surveys, when done properly:

1. Surveys Can Help Guide Good Decision Making

Having good data is critical to making good decisions, and surveys can give you some of the information you’re looking for. You’re going to need to write questions that give you actionable information. Think about what answers you might receive and if they will change anything you do in your communications strategy and execution.

A survey can key you in on holes in your messaging. Do people understand your services, your mission, your theory of change? Are you offering what people want and need? Can you streamline any of your programs or change them to better suit your audiences? Surveys can give you insight to all of these questions.

We’ve used surveys to help new organizations figure out their name and existing organizations to name and brand new programs, rename the entire organization, and rebrand, and get external and internal buy-in on these big changes. Surveys to governing boards, staff, advisory boards, and select partners can surface insights and reveal previously unknown challenges.

A survey shouldn’t dictate your decisions, but the data you gather can provide guidance and clear the path to the quick adoption of significant change. Be cautious about drawing conclusions from inadequate or misrepresentative sample sets. It’s important to note that without proper word choice and careful analysis, surveys are only as good as the sample set.

Survey results should only be weighed as heavily as anecdotal evidence unless there’s a scientific framing for the analysis. For important decisions, consider bringing on a data analyst or statistician either full time, if you’re gathering data frequently, or on a freelance basis if your analysis is less frequent.

2. Surveys Help Create More Transparency and Inclusivity

A survey might seem like it’s a simple Q&A between you and your audiences, but it’s easy to use them to increase people’s connection to your cause. Make them a four-step process.

  1. Send out your carefully considered survey.

  2. Analyze the results.

  3. Publish and promote the results and reveal your analysis.

  4. Ask your stakeholders for feedback on your analysis.

By taking these steps you’re rewarding the people who answer your survey. Provide them with results, maps, graphics, and information about your insights as a thank you for participating. You’re signaling to those who answered the survey that you’re actively listening. This tends to build trust and loyalty in your audience.

This process also tells those who didn’t answer the survey that answering the next one will have value. When you ask for feedback, you can also ask supporters to take another action — donate, sign a petition, volunteer, etc. Not only do you get useful information, you are positioning yourself to increase engagement.

3. Surveys Foster Community

If your digital strategy involves receiving, curating, and sharing feedback, you can encourage your community to connect with each other about the results of the survey. By promoting this type of interaction you can be doing community building while getting data about what’s important to your audiences. Knowing what your audience wants and giving it to them can help you move them up the engagement pyramid.

4. Surveys Help Overcome Email Engagement Challenges

Apple’s hit to email reliability and the tightening of other privacy practices, it’s getting harder to see who is engaged with your organization. Doing so requires new strategies to determine the success of your email campaigns. A survey is one way to get information.

If a survey is a call to action in your newsletter or direct email campaign, you can judge engagement based on how many people take the survey. And of course, the survey itself can let you know if people are paying attention to what your organization is doing.

5. Surveys Raise Awareness and Grow Your Audience

Drive people to online surveys via your website or within your Action Center. You can use your newsletter, make it part of an email campaign as we mentioned above, or through social media. Of those digital channels, targeted, promoted, and boosted social media is the only one that can connect with new supporters. Keep potential supporters in mind when you’re encouraging people to take your survey.

One way for boots-on-the-ground or frontline social impact organizations to raise awareness and expand their audiences is to table at an event. Get a spot at a local farmers’ market, makers’ fair, craft fair, or other appropriate community event. You can print out and collect short surveys on site. Ask for an email address on the survey form.

6. Surveys Can Help You Move Your Organization Forward

A survey can reveal messaging problems that you have and give you clear ways to address them. They can help you define and get a more clear and nuanced view into your target audiences.

The data you glean from a survey can inform more effective communications and help you improve your digital strategy. That deeper understanding of what your audiences want can allow you to strategically broaden or streamline your offerings, judge your effectiveness, build community, and get information that makes decision making easier.

Four Tips for Approaching How to Craft Your Surveys

For a survey to be effective, it needs to gather enough information to surface patterns and insights. We’ve worked with clients to employ a variety of techniques to get usable results from surveys. Here are some of our takeaways from our work.

Tip #1: Incentivize People to Complete Your Survey

When you’re trying to grow your audience, you need to give new people a reason to give you their email. Here are some incentives we’ve seen get results:

  • Raffles: Provide some basic raffle items, ideally something distinct and relevant to your organization. You can publicize the results to your new list quickly. Again, this builds trust.

  • Discounts: Work with mission aligned local retailers and restaurants to offer discounts. You get more survey engagement and grow your audience. Your partners gain the potential to get new customers, or have someone return.

  • Memberships: If your social impact organization uses a membership model, you can offer a low-tier membership for a limited time. There’s a chance that the person will become a paying member. It’s up to you to get them to see the value of their membership.

Tip #2: Provide a Low Barrier to Entry

How do you get people engaged with your cause and your organization when they’re unable to provide financial support? Give them options to take other types of actions. A survey is one way to get them involved with minimal friction.

Through a survey you can ask people how they would like to get more involved. You can get a sense of their willingness to volunteer. You can get an idea about their perceptions of your organization and if they see barriers to getting involved (real or imagined).

Tip #3: Get a Pulse on Your Effectiveness

It can be difficult to judge how much impact your efforts are having. Funders want to have quantifiable results of your efforts. Why not ask the people who benefit from your work?

A well-considered survey can be a good way to determine the effectiveness of your work. When conducting this type of survey, it’s important to leave room for open responses so you can get feedback and data that is unknown to your organization. In a world of unknown unknowns, an open question can produce unexpected insights.

Keep in mind that you can judge the effectiveness of individual programs as well. Just narrow the focus of your survey to get the results you seek.

Tip #4: Think About Quantity vs. Depth

Sometimes you need a lot of data points to make a decision. On other occasions, you may need in-depth feedback. When you’re developing your survey keep in mind that if you want more volume, it’s best to have a survey with limited choices that can be completed in two minutes or less. These are good for tabling, as mentioned above. When you’re looking for detailed answers, a longer form survey that allows for nuanced answers is a better way to go.

A short quick survey should allow you to put information into a spreadsheet or other data analytics platform and quickly get answers. Longer form surveys require more work to analyze, but are more likely to result in consequential revelations.

Survey Best Practices

  • Use of surveys should be strategic and planned out to align with the larger communications and engagement calendar for the organization’s year

  • Determine where the information you collect will live so that you can compare data over time. Some data will need to be collected over many years. Yearly surveys can be a good way to get consistent data over time. Conducting surveys over time is one way to help determine if you’re having the impact you think you’re creating.

  • Be careful not to overdo sending out surveys. Like any other element of your digital strategy, people can get burned out if the interaction with your organization is always the same.

  • Write questions that will get you information that informs your work. Test your questions with your leadership team and board before sending them out to your mailing list.

Think about segmenting your audiences so that you’re getting responses from people in a position to give you the kind of information you’re looking for.

Let’s Go!

Time to sharpen your pencil and start making some checkboxes. You could be just a few well-thought-out questions away from discovering keen insights that help your organization leap forward.

Need help designing or facilitating surveys for your work, or with brand strategy for your social impact organization? Let's Connect.

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