September 29, 2015

Using Surveys to Understand your Unique Audiences

Matthew Billingsley • Chief Creative Officer

In this second part of the Cause Collaboration event recap, we’re taking a closer look at surveys—an under-used tool to help your nonprofit organization measure effectiveness through data and demographic information.

If your organization is struggling to tap deeper into your audience’s needs there is a tried and true method for getting information to serve them better. In fact, it’s easier than you might think: ask them. One of the best vehicles for interacting with groups of people of any size is with surveys. The beauty of surveys is that they can be as complex or simple as needed. There is no one way to implement them or requirement for how they need to be shared with people. Whether online or old-fashioned paper, the methods are up to your organization to determine and they depend on audience variables. In this post we will outline how they work, what they should ask and how you can use the data to help advance your mission.

What You Need to Know

The survey’s questions – and answers – should always reflect your organization’s purpose. Not sticking to the end mission will just give you unnecessary information to weed through. Before asking your audience what kind of car they drive understand why that knowledge may or may not help your cause to help them. Your survey should meet the following criteria: First, be intentional—make sure you are asking the right questions and they are phrased correctly to get the info you need. Second, be targeted—identify the correct people to avoid noise and information that cannot be used. Third, be actionable—make sure the answers received are the ones you are looking for and give your organization the best means to make change for the good. If these three tests pass then you are ready to distribute. Other reasons why surveys are important:

  1. They encourage honesty through anonymity: Surveys eliminate any barriers for providing sensitive information.
  2. They are malleable: You can conform a survey to get collective or individual feedback.
  3. They provide opportunities for organizational improvement: Think of them as suggestion boxes where you choose who gets to give feedback.
  4. They give you multiple points of view: If your goal is to provide services or products designed to help the largest swath of people that can be reach, surveys are your ticket.

Understanding the Data: Demographics

Once you have the information it’s time to parse the responses. It’s not enough to simply collect data on groups and individuals; a well designed survey will enable you to convert that data into demographic information. Demographics are an essential driver to measure success for a powerful reason: you can predict your audiences’ behavior. For organizations that need to leverage limited funds or services to the largest base of people in need, demographics are your secret weapon. Applying demographics to your outreach efforts will allow you to measure past and ongoing success. For example, creating strategies to reach underrepresented demographic groups or diversifying an event’s appeal to the interested demographic. In turn, this will attract more donors and volunteers since results have been turned into positive action. Knowing these facts are crucial for your organization’s adapation.

Demographics allow you to better understand your cause also. For example, if there were any doubts about your mission’s effectiveness, surveys can confirm or disprove that doubt. This creates credibility within your audience. Demographic types can be broken down into two types of metrics: Fixed and Flexible.

  1. Fixed Metrics: Age, race and gender. Used to determine who your audience is.
  2. Flexible Metrics: Address, education and income. Used to determine how involved they will be with your organization’s cause.

Survey Methods

Different types of surveys will reach different audiences. You can make some broad generalizations to determine the best method to use. People of a certain age, say over 70, may be less likely to use a computer as their primary means of communication. In that case, paper “analog” surveys would be more effective. Young professionals are more likely to engage with a survey online since it’s easier for them to access. Know who you need to target to establish how you need to target them. More on the types of surveys:

  1. Analog Surveys: Mostly in the form of traditional paper. These are urgent and provide immediate feedback.
  2. Polling or Exit Surveys: These are used to reach beyond your current audience.
  3. Focus Groups: These allow for detailed responses in a controlled environment.
  4. Online Surveys: The easiest to implement for the widest base of users. Using a tool like Typeform to create your survey will also provide built-in tools for easier data analysis.

In order to better serve your audience and create the case for organizational change, you must first know who they are. Surveys are great, low cost tools to begin the discussion with your stakeholders.

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