Online Surveys Get You Feedback

March 30, 2011       Yann Toledano      

What do your constituents think about your programs and services? What kinds of activities are your donors likely to fund? Should your organization initiate a new program?

Rather than resort to using telepathic powers or mind reading, an online survey is a powerful research tool that can deliver the feedback you need. Paper-based surveys are often too costly and time-consuming to administer, but online surveys make it easy for any organization to get feedback on the cheap.

Most online survey tools are hosted on the cloud, so you won’t need to install anything on your computer. Simply use your web browser to access the tool’s control panel, where you can easily create a survey and customize your layout.Once you’ve created your survey, you can send email invitations to respondents asking them to take your survey. Or, you can post a link to the survey on your website. Another option is to embed the survey directly into your website or blog.

To get the most responses, all three methods can be used in tandem. Survey tools automatically collect and tally responses in “real time,” which means you can watch the results come in as they’re being submitted. Results are often organized and presented graphically using charts and tables. Most tools will even produce reports based on the survey results. You can share the results with members of your staff, and even with survey respondents.

The following are some key features to consider when choosing a survey tool:

Price: Unless you opt for a free tool, pricing will vary. Expect to pay weekly, monthly, quarterly, or on an annual basis; per-survey or per-response.

Number of surveys: Refers to the maximum number of surveys you can create.

Number of questions: Refers to the maximum number of questions you can ask in each survey you create.

Number of responses: Refers to the maximum number of people who can respond to each survey you create.

Customizable template: Does the tool give you the ability to change the look and feel of your survey? Some tools are more flexible than others in terms of allowing you to add or modify graphics, colors, and fonts in your survey. At the very least, choose a tool that allows you to include your own logo in the header of your survey.

Question piping and skip logic: While some tools offer only basic functionality, others include more powerful features such as “piping” and “skip logic.” Piping is a feature in which a given response to a question gets carried over to an upcoming question. For example, if a person selected “Google” as their response to the question “What is your preferred search engine?,” then with survey piping enabled, the “Google” response can be included in a follow-up question such as “How many times per week do you use Google?”

Skip logic (also known as branching) is another useful feature that enables you to control the course of the questions asked. For example, if a person responds “male” to question 4, you could have a rule that tells the survey to skip questions 5 and 6 and to proceed to question 7 next – since questions 5 and 6 don’t apply to male respondents.

Reporting: Most tools will give you access to more reporting features (such as generating cross-tabulated reports) if you use the paid version of the tool instead of the free version. In addition to viewing the results online, you can download the data to your computer. Data exporting formats vary based on the tool and include Excel, PDF, Word, and more. Some tools enable you to create customized reports, which you can download and share with others.

Storage: Refers to how long – in days, weeks, or months – the survey data will be kept available for access.

Support: Most survey tools are easy to use, but it’s good to know that support is available if you need it.survey results. What are some specific actions you can implement now and in the future? For example, you might discover from a website evaluation survey that most of your respondents enjoy reading your site’s content. But the feedback also indicates that people have trouble reading the articles due to font size, which they pointed out is too small.

In fact, this could be the main explanation as to why your visitors are spending less time reading the articles! Armed with these insights, you’re now ready to act by making an informed decision to use a larger font size for all current and future articles. Doing so will make your visitors happy and improve your site’s effectiveness. Remember, you’re not done with your survey until you act on the results.

This story was provided by TechSoup, a nonprofit technology organization in San Francsico, Calif. Go to