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We Take on Your Burning Questions about Audience Surveys

Last month, we hosted a webinar called “How to Create Effective Audience Surveys”. Surveys can empower you with real, actionable, and surprising insights into what your audiences do, think, and need. But, if you don’t regularly survey your target audiences, your engagement efforts are merely educated guesses. And if your surveys aren’t carefully crafted, you’ll end up receiving misleading data.

Many of you had some great questions, and once again, we just couldn’t get to all of them! But don’t worry, we’ve got you taken care of right here.

What is a good timeframe to allow for responses?

You’ll want to allow two to three weeks for responses, but it really depends on the size of your potential respondent list. If that list is larger, then you might allow more time. We suggest advertising the survey when it launches via email, social media posts, and even snail mail depending on your audience.

Reminder emails are effective, too! How many times have you received something in your inbox that you say you’ll go back to, but never do? After a week, send a reminder email to complete the survey. Then, if appropriate, send a “last chance” reminder a day or two before your survey closes. Your response rate will typically look like an inverted bell curve: You’ll see the bulk of your responses on day one and the last day before the survey closes.

Should I offer an incentive?

Incentives alone can increase your response rate by five to 20 percent. But, you don’t want your incentive to be too big. For example, the chance to win a $500 gift card may seem like a great incentive, but it’s big enough to bias your results as people will take the survey solely for the chance to win.

Your incentive should be big enough to be a carrot, but not so big that everyone wants in on it. We usually do a $100 gift card, and if the survey is going out to a large number of people (tens of thousands), we may offer several gift cards with a drawing at the end. Be careful not to underestimate the logistics behind fulfilling your incentive—especially if you’re providing something tangible to everyone who takes your survey. For example, if you’re going to mail printed tickets to everyone who takes a survey, you’ll have to account for the time to package up the tickets and the cost for postage.

Keep in mind that if your user doesn’t share their contact information, they can’t receive anything from you. So you can either have an anonymous survey or an incentivized one—but not both. One way to get around that is to give your users the option to choose if they want to provide their contact information to be eligible for the incentive. If they don’t, they’ll remain anonymous.

Do you report back to the respondents, or just to internal stakeholders?

We often take surveys for the brands or causes we interact with, but never hear about the results. The respondent typically has no idea what the other responses were like, how they compare, or what your organization is even doing with the data. Look for ways to report back. Transparency rarely goes unappreciated!

Here’s an example from Barry University:

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Should I contact unhappy survey respondents?

If they’ve shared their contact info as part of the survey (it wasn’t anonymous) and they are a donor, member, or another person closely affiliated with your organization, you should absolutely get in touch with them. There’s just about no worse survey faux pas than having an angry or frustrated donor that doesn’t hear from you. Making that extra effort goes a long way, too.

Do you typically use multiple methods of collection (emails, mailings, etc.) for one survey?

Online surveys are much easier because the survey platform does most of the work for you. It also creates beautiful charts and graphs for many of your respondents’ answers. In some instances (if you don’t have emails for your audiences, or you have a low-tech audience), surveys by mail may be more appropriate but you should expect lower response rates and more time for analysis.

How many people do you need to collect responses from to feel like you’ve got a valid survey?

Generally, you want to base your survey on 100+ responses. We typically see a 5-10% response rate on donor surveys (a 10% response rate on 1000 people would yield 100 responses, for example). That means that you have to have enough people to survey. Again, an incentive may help you reach those numbers.

If you find that you don’t have a large enough list to get at least 100 responses, this doesn’t mean you can’t survey. But it does mean that you’ll want to pair your survey with informational interviews (interviews with stakeholders—donors, members, etc.—where you can dive deeper into the same questions asked in the survey). These deeper dives combined with a smaller survey sample will give you a better indication of what’s going on than the survey alone.


If you missed it, you can check out an on-demand recording of our recent “How to Create Effective Audience Surveys” webinar. Alternatively, if you are a nonprofit looking to survey your donors, you can access our on-demand webinar on building effective donor surveys:

Have a question you still want answered? Tweet us @youaremighty and let us know!

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