This article is courtesy of Idealware, which provides candid information to help nonprofits choose effective software. For more articles and reviews, go to www.idealware.org.
Ever wonder how well received your annual dinner event is? Looking to evaluate a new program? Need to collect data for a big research project? Surveys can be a huge help in understanding what your constituents think and how successful your programs are.
And good tools can be a big part of that. Online survey tools can be a very cost-effective way for delivering surveys and collecting and analyzing results through one central system. While they're not going to be the right fit for every research need (for instance, a paper survey is likely to get a much-higher response rate at an in-person event, and provide more accurate data among populations that are not as comfortable with computers), online surveys are great for gathering informal data quickly and easily.
There are a number of these tools available. How do they compare? Idealware spoke to three nonprofit staff members with extensive survey experience, consulted postings on a number of nonprofit listservs, and scoured reports and article on the topic. Below, we walk through the online survey tools that have worked for others, and might work for you as well.
Pretty much any good online survey tool will allow you to easily define your survey questions and the possible responses using an online interface, and then send your constituents a link to answer the survey online. But some offer more sophisticated functionality that can be very handy when you're planning anything more than the simplest survey. What types of features might be useful?
Keep in mind that no software package can do the design work to ensure your survey will collect effective, high quality data. While it's easy to slap together a set of questions, designing a survey that will capture the data you need in a rigorous way is complicated — you'll likely benefit from consulting someone who has experience with survey design.
A number of low cost online tools provide easy interfaces for building surveys and viewing reports online. These packages can be a great fit for smaller surveys where advanced question types, survey logic, and results analysis are not required.
There are a number of inexpensive solutions that bundle in additional features outside of surveys and polls. These can be quite useful if you find that your survey needs often overlap with others — for instance, the need to send emails. However, the survey functionality within these integrated tools tends be fairly basic, and they're unlikely to meet the needs of those looking for advanced survey logic or analysis features.
If you are looking to conduct larger-scale research, marketing and feedback analysis projects, a more powerful survey package could provide welcome functionality. These tools offer significantly more advanced question formats, survey logic and data analysis. The more complex functionality makes them more difficult to use without training, especially for those without prior survey design expertise.
Start by thinking about your needs. If you're just looking to get your feet wet with a quick survey, one of the free or low cost tools will probably work fine. In fact, a more sophisticated survey package is likely to just be considerably more difficult for you to use. On the other hand, if you're looking for survey software to support rigorous research, the more advanced packages are more likely to have the features you need.
Whichever type of package makes sense for you, take advantage of the free versions to take the tools for a trial run. While many of the advanced features are not available in the free trials, the vendor may be able to give you access to these features as well.
With a little care, you can choose a package that will make it easy to collect and analyze data. When that next annual dinner or research project comes around, you won't have to guess what people are thinking — you can find out!
Thanks to the nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice, and other help:
Image: Gavel, Shutterstock
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