I have always been a firm believer in surveying your online adovacy and donor list every six months or at the very least once a year. But a couple of weeks ago, Kelly O'Neal, an online marketing consultant, asked me "Why should nonprofits survey their list? What value will they truly get out of the results?" I rattled off some answers and reflected on my answers as she raised some great points. Here's some questions that nonprofits should ask themselves that Kelly and I have been discussing ever since.
1. What are your goals in surveying your nonprofit's list?
2. What do you hope to learn about your list, that you don't already know - after looking at your list's response rates to action alerts and donation appeals?
3. If you gain new insight, what are you going to do differently? How will it shape the future of your online program? Be very honest in answering these two questions and think about your organization's:
- staff capacity;
- structure and work silos;
- competing program priorities.
4. Will you have time to assess, learn, and implement change? I personally know very few groups who survey their lists and take the time to do all three steps outlined above due to staff resources.
5. Who typically responds to your online surveys? Is it a tiny sample of your list and therefore stastically insignificant? Are the segments that respond your super activists or deeply committed donors who are already big fans of your organization? If so, that's not a great sample unless the survey was specifically aimed at this segment.
Of course there are times when it's quite valuable to survey your list such as when you are going through a re-branding process or redesigning your website as Susan Finkelpearl of Free Range Studios noted in a recent listserv discussion on this topic. "In these cases, getting the input of your fans can be really helpful-- they care about you and will put on their thinking caps and make useful suggestions. It's also useful when we want to better understand what it is that encourages people to engage with the organization and how they would describe the organization to others."
I know many nonprofit campaigners may be a little shocked to hear that yearly online surveys "to learn more about your constituents" may not be the best practice we once thought it was. And perhaps you completely disagree. Either way, we would love to get your thoughts. Is surveying your list really valuable?
PS: Kelly will be sharing her survey research on Frogloop in the near future. So stay-tuned.