Nonprofit surveys are an important tool for measuring and improving the effectiveness of a nonprofit or NGO. But what are they? Why do you need one? How do you conduct one? As someone who has spent 30 years conducting surveys to glean important insights, I’ll answer these questions and help you understand many ways that nonprofit surveys can help your organization listen and learn from your constituents.

What is a nonprofit survey?

Simply put, the answer is that a nonprofit survey provides a way for you to listen to all your different stakeholders including donors, staff, partners, board members, volunteers and other supporters, with the goal of strengthening your nonprofit organization. You can conduct nonprofit surveys in a variety of ways, including an online questionnaire sent by email, mobile surveys sent by text, and one-on-one interviews conducted via Zoom. The response you get and the results help you to clearly and consistently make better decisions about your nonprofit and how it does its work. If you don’t make an effort to listen to your stakeholders, how will you know what is important to them and their satisfaction level with your nonprofit organization!

Why do nonprofits need to conduct surveys?

It’s important to incorporate nonprofit surveys both so you can improve your organization based on what’s important, as well as more effectively show results to your donors, funders, and other interested parties.

Let’s consider you are launching a new program at your nonprofit. Ideally, you want to solicit feedback from your stakeholders early in the development and operation of this effort to provide valuable data as you plan and roll out the program. This is a more tactical use of this tool. But surveys also help tell you if your vision and values align with those of your donors, as you engage in fundraising, and other stakeholders, and how you’re doing at meeting their needs and providing value to them.

It’s my belief that nonprofit surveys provide important feedback for nonprofits in gauging the effectiveness of their programs and organizations, as well as provide critical input to strategic decision making. No matter the size of your nonprofit, you can and should conduct these!

How do you conduct surveys for nonprofit organizations?

You should plan to survey all of your stakeholder groups to glean feedback and solicit opinions to improve your nonprofit and help you make accurate and effective decisions. So you might consider donor surveys, volunteer feedback, board effectiveness surveys, community input, pre-event surveys and post event feedback, and staff assessments. And, you should include responses from as many people as feasible when conducting research about a particular program, project, or activity. Keep in mind that if you have a small number of people in a program, and you survey all of them (and they all respond), that provides very solid results, even though the overall number might be small. On the other hand, if there are many participants in a program, you may need to be satisfied with a sample of respondents.

Depending on the complexity of your organization, you’re likely to have different measurement goals for different parts of your nonprofit. Once you’ve got those goals in mind, you can ultimately determine what form each survey will take. Whether you conduct online surveys, telephone-only surveys, focus groups, or interviews, there’s always a way to get enough feedback.

After all of these items are considered, it’s time to develop specific questions. We’ll tackle that next!

What questions should a nonprofit survey include?

Developing the right set of essential questions is key to capturing actionable insights. In the below sections, I provide a few essential survey questions for some key groups where you might want to take a deep dive.

Donor Feedback

When conducting donor surveys, gaining an understanding of what motivates them to support your nonprofit or inspired them to give, the ease or difficulty of making a donation, what they like about your organization, and what they would like to see you do differently provides valuable information. Donor surveys can be conducted at different points throughout the year, as well as at various intervals during the donor journey with your nonprofit. I would consider donor surveys an essential survey for all nonprofit organizations, well worth the time spent to build stronger relationships with donors.

Volunteer Surveys

Volunteers are often on the frontline of the work your nonprofit does and a very valuable resource, so it is important to understand their perceptions of your nonprofit, as well as any issue they might have with your program. Volunteer survey questions might focus on satisfaction with volunteering for you, whether sufficient training for their volunteer role took place, and their likelihood to recommend your nonprofit as a place to volunteer to their friends or neighbors. Answers to these questions can provide key information to improve your volunteer experience and help your volunteer management efforts improve to make the most of your volunteer resources.

Staff Feedback

Questions to ask of staff center around engagement, usually in the form of an annual survey. Some examples here might include their interest in working long-term at your nonprofit, the likelihood they would recommend your organization as a place to work, or their perception about the frequency of communication from leadership. You might also consider questions about what they have seen work well at other organizations, as well as what they find to be a challenge working at your nonprofit. Another option I’ve incorporated is peer measurement – have staff rate each other within work groups to assess how well people work together within teams. Employee surveys provide a great deal of valuable information for your human resources department.

Event Feedback

Gathering feedback while you are planning events, as well as following events, provides needed information from relevant constituents. Not only can an event survey taker give you an idea of what appeals to them in an event you are planning, they can also help you gauge what made one event a success and figure out why another one had issues and challenges. I’d also encourage you to measure the services used at the event, such as auction or donation platforms to learn about the user experience. Put together a comprehensive report of your findings and share it with your team.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

While you are doing research, it is important to avoid common mistakes. These common pitfalls could include asking too many open-ended questions, using the wrong question type, not checking skip logic, not using advanced survey logic, or over relying on artificial intelligence. You will want to make sure consult an expert if you need help with these types of issues or how to utilize your survey platform.

Nonprofit Surveys: Don’t Wait!

I hope you now have a better understanding of conducting surveys for your nonprofit. Get started today and take the time to develop your approach, whether by drafting a few donor survey questions or figuring out how to conduct a satisfaction survey with your staff. I challenge you to take the first steps on the process now! It may sound daunting, but trust me, it is worth the effort, and nonprofits can benefit greatly from the valuable feedback gleaned as you answer needed questions to help your organization improve. Surveys can plan a vital role in every nonprofit organization.

You can get more information about polls and surveys by doing a web search on topics like survey design, sampling and methodology, online survey tools, feedback survey templates, nonprofit survey templates, or read my book, Feedback Rules!, for an easy-to-understand resource to help you conduct surveys. Survey tools I recommend include Qualtrics and Alchemer.

Listen to Brian on an episode of the Virtuous Responsive Fundraising podcast talk about organizational insights and nonprofit surveys.