CharityVillage: Using Surveys to improve strategic decision making


Whether you are interested in gaining insight into community needs around a particular issue, or whether your organization is looking for feedback on the work you already do, a well designed survey can help you achieve these goals with a relatively small investment of time and money. In the article Survey Says: Using surveys to improve strategic decision making, CharityVillage contributor John Paul de Silva offers the following tips and advice: Defining the goal of the survey:  In order to gather the information you are looking for it is helpful to have a clearly defined goal or purpose for the survey. For example, how well is our new outreach program working? This goal should be clearly defined in the survey title. It is also important in this step to define who your target audience is for the survey.

Designing the survey: de Silva offers 4 main types of questions on a survey:

  1. Perceptions – How friendly are our staff members?
  2. Behaviours – How many family drop-in programs have you tried?
  3. Future behaviours – How likely are you to try our new drop-in program?
  4. Demographics – What age group do you belong to?

Not all surveys will include all 4 types of questions but most will include demographic questions.

Tips on writing questions:

  • Write questions that are clear, precise and relatively short
  • Do not use loaded or leading questions
  • Do not ask two questions as one – For example: Do you like the food and nutritional counselling we provide?
  • Avoid double negatives

Tips on writing responses:

  • Use a Likert-scale response option wherever possible - For example: Very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied and very unsatisfied.
  • Include all relevant alternatives as possible answers. This includes adding “don’t know” or “N/A” if these could be reasonable answers to the questions.

Other things to consider:

  • Surveys should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.
  • By not asking for personal information you increase the likelihood of receiving honest feedback.
  • Demographic questions should be asked at the end of an article.
  • A comments box at the end of a survey could provide you with very helpful feedback from an engaged participant.

Deploying and testing the survey: Online surveys are most popular these days but remember to test the survey with a small group of staff or volunteers. Also remember to including the following information:

  • Your organization and main contact person in case people have questions about the survey.
  • Provide a reasonable deadline for completing the survey. If you provide  too much time to complete the survey people may delay and then forget about it. de Silva  recommends 1-2 weeks for a deadline.
  • Explain how the information gathered from the survey will help your organization.
  • Let people know how the information they provide will be protected, especially if you are asking for sensitive information.
  • Let them know up front how long the survey will take to complete.

Developing insights and following up with respondents: One you have analyzed the information you received, it is important to follow up with the respondents to let them know what changes you have made based on their feedback.

Read the full article, including links to a number of survey tools, on the Charity Village website.