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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Morgia

Survey Sessions, Part 2: How your nonprofit should choose its audience

Updated: Apr 18

Congrats! You’ve taken the first major step in planning your nonprofit survey project. You’ve figured out what you want to learn from your survey and how you will use your data to further your organization’s mission. Now what?

Next, it’s time to choose the audience for your survey. The people who should receive your survey are those who are best qualified to answer your research questions. For instance, imagine a local credit union recently launched a new financial education program. They want to create a survey to find out the following:

  • What aspects of the program were most helpful?

  • What aspects of the program were least helpful?

  • What improvements can the organization make in the future?

The people who can best answer those questions are those who participated in the program and the instructors. Why?

  • Program participants can relay their experiences and share what was most/least helpful for them.

  • Program instructors can share what they perceive to be the most/least helpful program elements for their students and insights about curriculum improvement.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Choosing Your Survey Audience Can Get Tricky

Sometimes, organizations decide to send surveys to broad groups like “partners,” “stakeholders,” or “policymakers.” There are two major problems with using vague terms like these to describe your audience:

  1. It may be unclear who “counts” under these categories, which can lead to confusion during the planning and implementation process

  2. All members of a particular group may not be the right people to answer your survey questions

So how do you narrow down your list? Write down all of your stakeholders and create a list of pros and cons to determine which groups should receive your survey. This strategy is also an excellent way to develop subgroups or parameters around which group members should be included. Here’s an example.


A community health organization wants to send a survey to get feedback on its youth education programs. They plan to use the feedback to improve their programming for the coming school year. The team leader decides the survey should go to the organization’s stakeholders. However, a staff member brings up that there are a lot of stakeholders, including board members, staff, foundations, program participants, community partners, and families. Can all these stakeholders provide the kind of feedback the organization seeks?

To figure this out, the survey team makes a pros and cons list for each group and discusses which groups to include. While not every stakeholder will receive the survey, the process allows them to figure out how to involve groups in different ways.

Sample Stakeholders Pros and Cons List

Group Name




Board members

Understand how youth programs contribute to the overall mission

Are not familiar with the details of the curriculum or day-to-day implementation

No – keep the board updated on the project during quarterly board meetings

Staff members

​Youth program staff know the strengths and challenges facing the program

​All other staff are not as familiar with the program

Yes - Program staff only


​May have subject matter expertise in effective youth education programs

​Are not familiar with the curriculum or day-to-day implementation

​No - use as subject matter experts

Program alumni

​Have a good understanding of the curriculum and activities

Can give insights into what worked well and what did not

Can share how the program impacted their health choices

Depending on how much time has passed, alumni may not remember all of the details of the program

Yes – alums who graduated from the program no more than two years ago


Why Clarifying Your Survey Audience is Critical

There are two reasons why your organization should take the time to identify your audience. First, when you are clear on who needs to take your survey, you can craft questions best suited for that audience. Also, getting clear on the audience can help further refine the purpose of your survey and make it easier to explain to staff members, donors, and other stakeholders (however you define that term!).

And finally, for the last tip – write down the final decisions and share them with the survey team. When the team is on the same page about the project purpose and process, the implementation process becomes much easier.

Need help thinking through your project ideas? Please reach out to me at for a free consultation call. Looking forward to connecting!


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