One of the smartest investments you can make in your nonprofit’s communications program is to ask the people you serve what they think using an online survey.

An online survey can help you meet the needs of your members, volunteers and donors better, and avoid wasting time and money on services that don’t interest them.

It’s never been easier to do an online poll. SurveyMonkey offers a free survey tool and sample questions and templates. And email vendors like Constant Contact provide more sophisticated polling options with a monthly membership.

Before you sit down to write your online poll here are seven tips to get the most from your nonprofit’s next online survey that we’ve shared with our clients at Prichard.

1. Know What You Want

Be clear about your purpose. Do you want to test a new service? Are you thinking of raising membership dues? Do you want demographics (age, income, education, etc.) about your members? Know what you want to research and build your questions accordingly. Don’t ask for information you can’t use.

2. Don’t Combine Subjects

Putting two or more subjects in one question is a mistake many first-time nonprofit pollsters make. Always stick to one subject. Respondents won’t distinguish among multiple topics and you can’t be certain of what they mean exactly if they answer a two-part question with one survey answer.

3. Use Open-Ended Questions

Sometimes you need to test people’s reaction to a list of specific choices. However, don’t forget to include an open-ended question, too. This will let you see if respondents have ideas or needs beyond the options you’ve imagined.

4. Set a Deadline 

Always include a deadline, usually one to three weeks after you open the poll, to increase your response rate.

5. Ask Again

Don’t be shy about sending one or two reminders to those who haven’t answered. Your original email may have landed in a spam folder or your readers may not have had time to respond.

6. Give an Incentive

Simple incentives will also boost your response rate. Consider doing a drawing for several $50 gift cards or making a contribution to a charitable group in the winner’s name. Be sure, too, to announce the results the drawing.

7. Tell People What Happened

You will create much goodwill — and increase the chances people will answer your next poll — when you share your survey results on your blog, social media accounts and other publications. Even more effective: tell people how your nonprofit plans to act on those findings.

What has been your experience with online surveys? Share your stories and your own tips in the comments below.