Member SurveysAny doubt that we’ve entered the era of the customer experience? Take a look at your inbox. In mine, there are no fewer than 4 follow-up surveys or member surveys asking for my opinion on a Halloween costume recently purchased for our 6-year old, a recent Uber to our Personify Connections event in Washington, D.C., a pizza I had delivered last week and service I had performed on my Nissan Leaf.

Surveys are becoming a growing part of everyday life for millions of Americans, including your members and donors, and for good reason. They provide valuable insights into their thoughts and preferences and allow you to better align the experiences you’re delivering with their expectations.

Yet while everyone has an opinion, survey requests often go unanswered. Why?

  • They take too much time: Most member surveys ask for “a few minutes of your time” but typically require 15 or even 20 minutes to complete — who has that kind of time to spare?
  • Lack of follow-up on constructive feedback: I’ve filled out plenty of surveys in the past and spent ample time providing detailed information about a lackluster interaction…but with no result. Where did my feedback go? Did it influence any change? Maintaining this trust is especially important with member- and donor-based organizations where the value is as much in the relationship as it is in the transaction.
  • No learnings shared: Even if my feedback doesn’t include a direct ask or recommendation, there’s often no follow-up. For example, if I participate in any sort of market research how do my responses compare to those of others? Do they suggest broader trends I should be aware of? If I truly believed I’d receive something in return for my time, I’d be more inclined to share my perspective – especially if the survey is a long one.

What to Ask in Member Surveys

Although some member surveys come easily—such as asking for a constituent’s opinion of a recent event or transaction—it’s still important to understand what information you hope to capture. With increasing demands on time-strapped members and donors, it’s important to prioritize requests for feedback and ensure the information you’re requesting will advance your mission.

You may be curious to know how well you’re meeting needs, how engaged volunteers are, how satisfied your members are with your website, how effective various programs are, etc. But the more you’re able to narrow the focus of your member survey, the more likely it is to be a success.

  • What is the single most important question your member survey should answer?
  • What do you hope to learn?
  • What do you expect to hear?
  • How will you use the information?

With clear goals, formulating the right questions – ones that will get you the information you’re looking for – becomes easier to create and easier to answer.

Also, make sure you’re identifying the right participation group. Who do you need to hear from and what is the best way to reach them? Target your audience to make sure your message is relevant and engaging. Make clear the reason why you’re conducting this outreach. Use every outreach opportunity to reinforce your commitment to your mission and big picture goals, making survey participants feel like they’re part of the solution. Help them understand why you’re asking for their feedback and how you’ll use it, and be sincere.

How to Ask It

Some organizations get it right. I (almost!) always respond to their requests because their surveys, whether sent via email or presented to me on their website or as part of a transaction. If you want high-quality feedback from your constituents, feedback you can leverage for learning, action, and even investment decisions:

  • Keep member surveys short, usually only two or three questions. Respect your constituents’ time.
  • Be clear, in what you’re asking and why: Even if the reason for the survey is obvious, remind your constituents why you’re reaching out and why what you’re asking is important.
  • Commit to taking direct action. When constituents offer constructive feedback, acknowledge it immediately if you can. If the constituent has provided their contact information, reach out to thank them for sharing their experience and use it as an opportunity to listen. And, then do something with their feedback. Did they complain about not having a gluten-free option at your annual conference? Make sure they see something gluten-free during next year’s buffet. Were they unable to update their payment information online? Prioritize it the next time you’re making updates to your website.
  • Circle back to share what you’ve learned. If you’re using the information to better understand a trend or a particular issue impacting your members and donors, let them know what you’ve learned. Sharing key findings can spur conversation among constituents and help drive long-lasting, strategic change for your organization. If you have an online community, a post with survey results can be a high-impact way to drive meaningful engagement.

While getting feedback has never been easier, there’s never been more noise to cut through. Ensure your member surveys are a success with a focused goal, respect your survey respondents’ time and share what you’ve learned.

The importance of constituent feedback can’t be overstated. When members and donors see your nonprofit make an effort to understand their experience, their perspectives and their concerns, the more value they see in being part of your organization.