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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Morgia

Survey Sessions: Answer me, please! Six tips to increase your survey's response rate

Updated: Apr 18

As someone who spends lots of time with online surveys, few things are more nerve-wracking than finally hitting the "send" button. Sure, there's a flurry of activity at first as responses pour in from the most enthusiastic folks on the contact list. But then there's the lull – that dreaded lull – that can last for days, sometimes weeks, as responses slowly trickle in or stop altogether.

If all you're hearing is crickets, or the dulcet tones of Lionel Richie on repeat in your head, here are six ways to help your organization boost your response rates and strengthen the results of your project.

1: Keep the survey short

Your organization might have a million questions it wants to ask about strategic plans, programs, services, or advocacy priorities. But no one is going to take an hour out of their day to answer all those questions. Therefore, when designing your survey, it's critical to prioritize the most important questions and leave everything else for some other time.

I generally recommend that online surveys take no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete, and so does the Pew Research Center. How do you figure out how long the survey is going to take? Ask a diverse group of volunteers to take your survey and track how long it takes them to complete it. Also, some survey platforms like Typeform will create an automatic estimate for you.

2: Make sure the survey is accessible

There are many ways to think about accessibility, such as language accessibility. For instance, if your survey is going out to English and Spanish speakers, a Spanish-language version of the survey should be available. Also, make sure your survey is accessible to people with disabilities. According to the CDC, one in four individuals in the U.S. has some type of disability, so it is prudent to ensure your survey is accessible to all. Many online survey platforms have built-in checks to ensure surveys are accessible for people with disabilities, so use them before sending the survey out. SurveyMonkey also has a great list of tips on creating accessible surveys as a place to start.

3: Avoid  relying solely on email follow-up

It's very common to send reminders via email after a survey goes out. Email follow-up is a good strategy that should be a part of the project plan. However, there are two issues to keep in mind. First, many people are constantly getting inundated with emails, and they're definitely not reading all of them. Second, not everyone checks their email regularly or has consistent internet access.

If you think your emails are getting lost in the mix, there are more analog strategies you can try, such as:

1. Think about where your audience is – where do they go to school? Where do they go grocery shopping? Do they take public transit? Post flyers about your survey wherever your audience may be. Include QR codes, the survey link, and a contact phone number on the flyer.

2. If you have phone numbers for your participants, you can always call to remind them about the survey but only do this once. If the person answers, you can offer to do the survey with them over the phone. If they don't answer, leave a voicemail and move on.

Finally, don't forget about social media. Post reminders about your survey on the platforms your audiences use the most. This strategy can help lower the number of follow-up emails while still getting the word out about your project.

4. Revisit your audience

If survey responses aren't coming in as quickly as you like, take a moment to ensure that you're asking the right people to participate. It's essential that organizations send surveys to the people who can best answer their questions. For instance, if someone sent me a questionnaire about how I care for houseplants, I would 100% ignore it. I killed a cactus once in college, so I'm not the right person to ask about thriving plant life! Review your original research questions, see if any groups are missing from your audience, and revise the outreach plans accordingly.

5. Get by with a bit of help from some friends

If your survey audience is broad, it can help to include a link at the end of the survey that allows them to share it with others who may be interested in participating. Also, organizational partners and funders can be great resources to tap into to encourage more responses. If it makes sense for your project, ask partners and others if they would share your organization's survey with their networks. Be willing to share the results with other organizations as a thank-you for their assistance. It's a great way to strengthen relationships and share data for collective action.

6. Offer an incentive

If it's in the budget, your organization can offer incentives for survey participation. For my clients, the most typical incentive I've seen is a raffle for a gift card. The amount of the gift card and what it is for should coincide with the needs and interests of your audience. For instance, teachers may be incentivized by a $50 gift card to a store with classroom supplies, whereas low-income seniors might be more interested in a gift card for the grocery store.

The trouble with incentives is that they can bring in respondents who are not the right people to answer your survey but complete it anyway for the chance at the prize. Screener questions can help reduce the risk of introducing this kind of bias in your results.

What has worked for your organization to increase survey response rates? Leave a comment below to share your experiences.

Need help with your organization's survey project? Click here to schedule a free consult call with me today!

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