5 Essential Steps for Your Nonprofit’s Stakeholder Surveys

Nonprofits vary greatly in size and focus, from community organizations that feed the hungry to global institutions protecting the environment. But one thing all nonprofits have in common is the need for stakeholder surveys.

Surveys allow nonprofits to better understand — and then better serve — their stakeholders. They are like a dialogue with your community — a chance to hear what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change. When done right, stakeholder surveys allow nonprofits to zero in on their constituents’ problems and solve them effectively. Alternatively, when done poorly or not at all, nonprofits can lose sight of what’s truly important to those they serve and how to make an impact.

In 2023, as your nonprofit gears up for one or more stakeholder surveys, here are five essential steps for ensuring the process is productive and impactful.

1. Ask the Right Questions

The substance of a stakeholder survey — that is, the questions being asked, and how they’re being asked — is what differentiates the good from the great. As you assemble your survey, avoid questions that are too broad and not actionable. 

For example:

  • “Is our organization meeting your needs?” Instead, craft questions that are granular and actionable. 
  • “Did our latest food drive provide a wide-enough variety of fruits and vegetables?” Having the right mix of open-ended questions, where participants respond in their own words to the prompt, and multiple-choice questions is also essential. Posing the same question as a multiple-choice option or as an open-ended question can result in different feedback. 

It’s also crucial that survey language is clear, concise, and accessible. Speak to your stakeholders in their language; no jargon or indecipherable acronyms. Otherwise, you risk stakeholders turning away — and losing valuable data and insights. 

2. Be Inclusive

It’s critical that you speak to all your stakeholders, and not just select pockets of them. To be inclusive in your survey, make sure you’re taking various issues into account: 

  • What language(s) is the survey published in? 
  • Is it available online and in print? 
  • Are people only able to take it at certain times of day? 

Think about how to make it easy for your stakeholders to complete the survey, and then disseminate it with that in mind. When you do, you’ll capture a holistic picture. If you don’t, you’ll collect data that is biased or incomplete. To increase participation, you can also provide incentives for completing the survey, like an event with food or gift cards.  

3. Learn From the Pandemic

COVID-19 provided a long list of lessons for nonprofits — one of which was how to creatively engage with stakeholders. Indeed, the pandemic has significantly impacted stakeholder survey design and data collection. 

Many nonprofits adopted tools, like Mailchimp and Google Forms, out of necessity but have stuck with them due to their ease of use and functionality. Similarly, nonprofits connected with stakeholders over Zoom and other video platforms during the height of COVID-19, but learned they should have been doing so much earlier. Tools like these allow you to reach more people more quickly — and make parsing data easier. 

4. Don’t Make Assumptions

Stakeholder surveys are about gleaning new insights, especially unexpected ones. Stakeholder surveys are not about reinforcing existing assumptions. As you craft and disseminate your survey, ensure you’re not going into it with predetermined ideas. 

Instead, treat it as a blank slate. You may think you know what your constituents need, but you’ll never truly find out if your questions are leading. Also, make sure you’re collecting data that is relevant to the current moment. Don’t recycle questions from past surveys — even surveys that are only a year or two old. 

5. Set a Clear Timeline

Nonprofits know the importance of having a program that runs like a well-oiled machine. Your stakeholder surveys are no exception. Like any initiative, your survey should have a clear calendar: a start date, an end date and milestones. Make sure you hold yourself accountable, and don’t move from one phase to the next until all the necessary data has been collected. 

This year — and all years — make sure your nonprofit is investing in stakeholder surveys. By following these five steps, you can ensure you’re collecting all of the valuable insights your nonprofit needs to best serve your community and make an impact. 

The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.