How To Create Surveys That People Actually Want To Take

  • 30 May 2016
  • Randy Wollf

Taking surveys is a chore. This is what most people will think when you ask them to take your survey. And yet, the results from a well-designed survey can help you determine the next steps to take in order to accomplish your ministry goals.  

The key is designing a survey that people will want to take. Here are several tips on how to design excellent surveys that will provide you with excellent data. 

  1. Establish a clear purpose

If you can’t state the purpose of your survey in one sentence, don’t go any further. You’ll be wasting your time and the time of those who do it. 

Once you identify your purpose, make sure to communicate this effectively. When people understand purpose, they feel empowered. Instead of feeling like a chore that has to get done, the survey can function as a tool that will serve their leaders well.  

  2. Create incentives

Simple incentives like a drawing for a gift card can often motivate people to complete a survey. Plus, a unique giveaway can also serve as a reminder that the survey is happening. 

In addition to physical incentives, help your audience understand that their feedback is an important part of your decision-making process. While it is true that people want to be heard, people will be even more motivated to share their thoughts if they feel assured that their opinions will make a difference. 

  3. Craft every question to serve the overall purpose of the survey

Ask yourself what you’ll do with the responses you receive. If you don’t know why the question is important (or what changes you’d be willing to make based on the responses), the question should be removed. 

  4. Keep your questions short and to the point

Peoples’ time is precious, so make sure that every question is concise and easy to understand.

  5. Include open-ended questions

Multiple-choice or yes-no questions can provide information about general trends. Open-ended questions will give you detailed information that will help you make sense of the general trends.

  6. If you use a rating scale, make sure to give equal weight to positive and negative assessments

Sometimes, surveys are created with options that lean toward positive assessments. Instead, make sure that you give equal weight to the positive and the negative (e.g. 1=poor, 2=fair, 3=average, 4=good, 5=excellent).

  7. Pilot-test the survey

Test your survey with a few people before you send it out to your target group. Ask the pilot group for feedback, so that you can make the survey stronger. Make sure to ask if there are any unclear questions and if the questions fit the purpose of the survey. 

  8. Give people advance warning

When possible, let people know in advance that the survey is coming. This will get them thinking about it and will increase your rate of return.

  9. Give people the opportunity to do the survey online

Use an online survey platform like SurveyMonkey for your surveys. It simplifies data collection and assessment. You may also want to include a paper option for those who are not inclined to take a survey online.

  10. Set a survey completion date

People are more likely to do surveys if there is a sense of urgency to do so. I recommend a two-week deadline for church surveys. 

  11. Remind people

You will find that your rate of return will go up considerably if you remind people about the survey. Doing it in a personal way (e.g. personalized emails or letters) will increase the rate of return even more.

  12. Moderate your expectations regarding participation

Even though the goal is to receive a huge response, the average return rate for surveys is about 10%. I feel confident that if you follow these tips, you will see a much higher rate of return.

  13. Look for themes and discrepancies in the responses

It’s important to look for themes, but also to include outlier comments that might point your group in new and productive directions.

  14. Involve others in interpreting the data

Each of us have biases, which can lead to inaccurate interpretations of the data. Involving others in interpreting the data will minimize these biases. For example, I will sometimes do a preliminary assessment of the data and then have others take it from there.

  15. Provide a summary

Survey participants and others are more likely to act on the recommendations that emerge from the survey if they know that the survey has been instrumental in shaping those recommendations. When action steps are created, refer back to the results of the survey to reinforce your rationale (i.e. “we heard you say ____ so we are taking action by ____.”). 

What are some other tips that you would add to strengthen the quality of a ministry survey?