How to Survey Customers of Your Nonprofit
People with whom you directly communicate can be identified and surveyed to gain substantial insight into the customers or funders of your nonprofit organization. Start by defining your core group — your most important constituents — and work out from there.
Suppose that your organization is a small historical society that organizes exhibits and panel discussions at three libraries in your town, publishes a quarterly newsletter, and maintains a website featuring news and information about its collection. Your current customers (or stakeholders, if you want to use a common nonprofit term), working from the core to the outer boundaries, include the following:
Your board and staff (and their friends and relations)
Your docents and volunteers
Families and organizations that donate materials to your collection
Local library staff and board members
Persons attending your panel discussions
Schools and other groups visiting your exhibits
Scholars and other archivists writing to ask about your holdings
Patrons of the three libraries
Subscribers to your quarterly newsletter
Persons visiting your organization’s website
Drawing up this list of interested persons is easy enough. But for marketing purposes, you need to know as much as possible about the characteristics, backgrounds, and interests of each group. Some things you can do to collect this sort of information include
Creating a database of your supporters by gathering names and addresses from every possible source within your organization — items like checks from donors, subscription forms from newsletter subscribers, sign-up sheets from volunteers, and e-mail messages sent to the contact us address on your website.
Enter these names and addresses in a computer database or word processing program that can sort them by last name, type of contact, and date of entry; and, if you’re planning to send traditional mail to them, sort them by zip code. Articles on the websites Idealware.org and Techsoup.org can help you choose a database.
Review the zip codes appearing most frequently on your list. If you’re in the United States, you can visit the United States Census Bureau and get demographic information about residents in those zip code areas.
Asking the three libraries whether they collect demographic data when visitors apply for library cards and whether they can share that information with you. (Some public agencies offer information about their constituents on their websites.)
Asking a few standard questions of schools or other groups when they call to sign up for a tour. Don’t engage in a lengthy interview, but find out how they heard about your program, why they want to visit it, and whether they have other needs you may be able to address. You can gather similar information when collecting registrations online.
Inserting clearly worded and inviting surveys in the programs at your public events. At the beginning and end of an event, make a brief public pitch explaining why it’s so important for people to respond to the surveys. Make pencils or pens available.
Create incentives for completing the form, such as a free museum membership for a person whose survey is drawn at random. Include the same survey as part of your mailed newsletter. Provide a return envelope to make it easy for readers to respond.
Similarly, make it easy for visitors of your website to subscribe to announcements or services, and send a brief survey to them by e-mail. The higher your response rate, the more accurate and useful the survey information will be.
You can find survey subscription services and sample surveys on the web that give ideas about wording questions. Two such services are Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey. For a fee, such sources will distribute your surveys by e-mail and tally the results for you.