Connections for Success



Eight Tips for Creating Your Own Survey
Harry Fox

So, you want to survey your members, donors or other constituents for feedback on a program or project? If you have not created a survey before, do not 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 organization want to learn from respondents? How will you use the data you collect? Say that you are planning to build a new recreation center. You would 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 give your leadership 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 10 minutes is acceptable; however, it sees “significant abandonment rates” after 10 minutes.

3. Get Some Online Help.
Speaking of SurveyMonkey, it is one of the most popular online survey tools. For free, your not-for-profit organization can create a basic survey with 10 questions and 100 responses. SurveyMonkey also sells not-for-profit 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 are offered an incentive and the response rate increases with the value of the incentive given. If you do offer one, choose an incentive that is appropriate. A big reward could skew survey results.

5. Speak Your Respondents’ Language.
When devising the survey, speak the language of those who will be taking it. Avoid industry jargon and technical lingo, and do not assume the survey taker knows the ins and outs of your organization or its field. If you are 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 flow. Place easy questions at the beginning of the survey and put more difficult or sensitive questions, such as those about income or ethnicity, at the end. Your goal should be to engage the respondent through the entire survey, so try to:

  • Present one idea per question;
  • Use closed-ended questions whenever possible — they are much easier for the survey taker and easier to analyze than open-ended questions;
  • Keep rating scales consistent throughout the survey; and
  • Give special attention to multiple-choice questions; for instance, provide respondents with all options for answering, including “not applicable” or “don’t know.”

7. Avoid Bias and Pledge Privacy.
Take care not to lead respondents to answers 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.

8. 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 will want to find out if any questions were confusing. Once the survey has been distributed, do not hesitate to send out reminders to potential respondents you have not heard from. According to some survey experts, sending several reminders significantly boosts response rates.

For more information, contact Harry Fox at [email protected], or call him at 312.670.7444. Visit to learn more about our Not-For-Profit Group.

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