Empowering Nonprofits Through Data

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The Secret to Increasing Survey Response Rates

June 15th, 2022

Communication. That’s the secret. If you want to increase the likelihood that you will have a higher response rate to your survey, communicate before, during and after your survey is administered. Let’s break it down into these three phases.

Do your participants sign up for your program and complete a registration form, intake, or something else? You can set the expectation that they will be asked to complete a survey, participate in a focus group, or other data collection activities because their feedback is critical to your ongoing program improvement. Include something like:

We are a learning organization, participation in data collection activities
such as surveys or focus groups is expected as a part of program participation.
Should you offer an incentive? Yes. If you can, offer a raffle to win a gift card or some other kind of prize. Be sure to check with your state’s laws or policies regarding offering a raffle. But, in general, offering an incentive for people to complete the survey combined with setting the expectation beforehand can boost your response rate.

And, at least one month prior to survey administration, let them know it’s coming. This may be:

It’s go time. Send out the survey and keep it open for at least 10 days. Depending on your audience, sometimes leaving it open for a month is the best course of action. While it’s out, continue to communicate the survey is open, their feedback is important, and reiterate the due date.

On the last day that the survey is open, be sure to emphasize that and ask for people to complete it.

How many of you have completed a survey and have no idea what happened to the results? You may all have your hands raised. I know I do. Let’s change that. It’s important to share back key findings so people know their feedback was heard, and better yet, used. It creates a feedback loop.

After you’ve analyzed the data, share out key findings and how the data will be used. Something like

“Thank you for completing the survey! We had (insert number) completed surveys and key findings are as follows (insert 4-6 key points). Based on these data, we are going to take the following actions (insert those too!).”

If you want some examples of what these impact summary reports look like, take a look at this page for examples.

For Teachers and Students…

Do you teach in a nonprofit management program or know someone that does? Please share this new web page with them detailing how to use my book to support teaching program evaluation.

Program Evaluation Course this Fall at the University of Portland

This fall, I’m teaching Program Evaluation at the University of Portland as a part of their Nonprofit MBA program. Visiting students are welcome but please note, this will be in person, on Wednesday evenings August 31 – December 14.

This course – BUS 591 Program Evaluation – covers the critical role program evaluation plays in a nonprofit and steps on how to do it. Topics include building staff buy-in, logic models, planning, measurable outcomes, survey design, program data management, data analysis/reporting, and communicating key findings.

For information on how to register as a visitor, contact Melissa McCarthy, MBA Program Director, mccarthy@up.edu. Feel free to contact me with any questions!

The Reviews Are In

My book, Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple: Get your Data. Show your Impact. Improve your Programs., has received favorable reviews in several academic journals. I am so grateful for this positive feedback. Many have found the book useful and I recommend it for evaluation students, professors of nonprofit management and anyone in your life that may be working to evaluate their program.

“This book represents a culture shift from exclusively chasing data to respond to funder requests to using data to learn…this book shows you how to integrate program evaluation into your day-to-day operations in order to improve programs and demonstrate your impact.”

Journal of Philanthropy & Marketing, February 2022
Book review by Dr. David Fetterman
Author, Empowerment Evaluation
President & CEO of Fetterman and Associates

Full review here 

“…the author adopts a strong cultural approach to evaluation. It is more a textbook to be used by teachers in master class and by trainers for mid-managers positions in the public and nonprofit sectors.”

VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations (2022)
Book review by Andrea Bassi
Associate Professor in General Sociology

You can read the full review here. Please note, if you’re not a subscriber it is available for purchase.

“In Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple, Chari Smith has produced a summary guide targeting professionals working in nonprofit organizations who are beginning their understanding of what is, and how to undertake, an evaluation. The tone of the book is bright and positive, the author clear, engaging, and professional.”

The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation
Lisa M. P. O’Reilly, MPA CE

Full review here


Now we have an amazing way to measure the physical, emotional, and mental effects of our programs...

Chari accurately captured the fundamental goals and mission of our organization and transformed our input into a clear evaluation process that helps us assess the impact of our programs on the lives of the families that we serve. Now we have an amazing way to measure the physical, emotional, and mental effects of our programs and to guide change, ensuring that we are delivering services in the most effective way possible.

Brandi Tuck, Executive Director, Portland Homeless Family Solutions

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