Nonprofits are often asked to provide proof that they are using resources to fund the wants and needs of the community. Justifying new expenditures, even in organizations that run an annual surplus, can be hard. What should organizations do when the board decides that the leadership’s belief in a new program or building addition is not enough? Let the community decide.
The easiest way to find out what the community thinks is a survey. In fact, with the easy survey systems available online, most of us are inundated by these requests. How do you really find out the answer to the question,
What do people think about your nonprofit?”
I admit that over the years I have written my fair share of surveys (both off and online). Maybe that is why I have noticed certain trends as of late. Some trends are good, some are bad.
The In-Depth Interview: This form includes multiple questions that address the same topic from different angles. This is advanced survey writing, but if you really want to know the answer to a question, you have to ask it within different contexts to eliminate some of the emotional or flippant responses. This does mean a longer survey, but it also means a more accurate one.
The Brief: While it is the polar opposite of The In-Depth, you can sometimes achieve a higher response rate with a choice handful of questions. If you carefully design the questions and responses, you can still find out if people agree with your ideas, and not ask them to give up too much of their valuable time.
Trying to Trick the Respondent: Please, please, please don’t think you can creatively ask questions that will encourage people to give your ideal response without them noticing. Maybe I see this so transparently because I have written surveys, but I can’t imagine anyone could not see these obvious ploys to get the results the nonprofit desires. And it happens all the time. (I do wonder if this sometimes happens because these simple survey systems exist – writing a fair and balanced survey is not as easy as people assume it will be). But, if it is created with intent to slant the results, consider this – if you don’t ask the members, donors and prospects for their true feelings, are you really representing their thinking or justifying the leadership’s wants and needs?
Positive Responses =Positive Feelings: I have been given a number of surveys this year by one organization that only ask questions that will offer positive responses. It seems as if question after question want me to respond in a way that leaves a good impression about the amazing new programs they are running this year. Instead, it leaves me feeling like they are trying to push me into appreciating them more than asking for my advice. Cynical? Maybe, but I doubt I am the only one who is ending up with a negative impression.
While I could easily list more positive and negative trends – I think you get the idea. If you follow a few simple rules – understand what it takes to write a survey before you begin, consider that you are asking for an opinion, not trying to find validation for your ideas, and design the survey with the user in mind – you will engage your constituents. And more importantly, you will truly learn about your organization.