7 Dos and Don’ts of Online Surveys

How do you know your nonprofit is meeting its mission? There are a lot of ways to get useful information that you can use to measure your success. One of the simplest — both to carry out and analyze — is an online survey.

But is an online survey as simple as asking a bunch of questions and posting them online?

Not exactly. A poorly designed survey is not likely to get a lot of participants—or worse, it might produce misleading results. Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind before you create your next online survey.


  • Start with the End in Mind: Know what you want to learn and how you’re going to use the results. A little planning will help you write more targeted questions and prevent you from asking questions that aren’t helpful.
  • Know Your Audience: Make sure the questions are clear and relevant to your participants. If you want to know about your volunteer programs, create a survey just for volunteers and send it directly to them.
  • Grab Their Attention with the First Question: Is there one issue your constituents care about most? If so, put that question first. Once they’re engaged, they’re more likely to keep going.
  • Group the Questions Logically: Make sure all the questions on one topic are together. If there are multiple clusters of questions, create sections that clearly delineate the different topics.


  • Don’t Go On Too Long: The shorter the survey, the better the response rate. It’s ideal to keep the survey under five minutes.
  • Don’t Ask Two Questions in One: Questions that connect multiple ideas often produce confusing results. For example, if you ask, “Do you like to visit nonprofit websites and donate online?” you’re asking someone to consider both whether they like to visit nonprofit websites and whether they like to donate online. Some people might like to do one, but not the other. If the expectation is that they answer “yes” or “no,” they’re likely to skip the question or give an answer that doesn’t represent their actual behavior. It’s best just to split these into two questions: 1) Do you like to visit nonprofit websites? 2) Do you like to donate online?
  • Don’t Ask Leading Questions: If there’s an obvious right or wrong answer, you’re going to get the answer you wanted rather than the answer you actually need.