Surveys: Unlock the Secrets of Your Audience

Have you done your homework?

That question may be on vacation until the fall in many families. But if you work in nonprofit marketing, it’s a question you should be asking yourself regularly, even if your own school days are ancient history.

Because when it comes to understanding your audience, doing your homework goes a long way in getting past your own ideas and uncovering what your audience actually wants.

So, what does audience homework look like? We’re talking research — a small-scale version of how your grocery store knows what brand cereal you’re likely to buy or how Google knows to put that Caribbean vacation ad on the website you’re visiting.

This month we want to talk about an old standby – the survey. There are actually many different ways to gather feedback and surveying is just one. Thinking of surveys as a blanket solution to answer everything is a sure way to hear crickets when you put out your next request for input.

But there are some valuable and unexpected ways to use surveys…

Three Great Reasons to Survey

1. Test your Theories

You can’t talk personally to everyone in your constituency. Plus, some voices can be louder than others when it comes to feedback and input into your programming, your fundraising, and your strategy. Surveys allow you to get a wider perspective on topics that seem to be important or divisive within small, vocal groups.

When we conduct audience research to develop new messaging for a client, we typically use surveys as a follow up to in-depth phone interviews, focus groups and strategy sessions. This way we’re able to test ideas that emerge and resolve conflicting feedback to get a clearer picture of the direction to take.

2. Engage your Audience

People like to provide feedback. And they like to see what others are thinking. But it can be hard to get people to take the time to fill out a “communication preferences survey” or other requests that help you but has no driving WIIFM.

To warm up your community to responding, try a micro-survey or poll. Ask just one question at a time to convert a commitment into a game.

We’ve been using this technique to create social media engagement and content for our client Beth El Synagogue Center NY. In a Facebook post, we asked parents what part of the synagogue’s camp their kids were looking forward to the most. Then we created a graphic from the responses.

Both the survey and the results post generated increased engagement from their audience — not to mention useful information for the camp’s organizers!

3. Expand your Impact

One strong way to build your brand is to lead a research study. Gathering and presenting data that is valuable to your audience positions your organization as a leader and often garners press and shares.

Look for audience questions that keep coming up, problems that are still unsolved, and issues that frustrate them to get ideas for developing a survey that leads to a valuable research report for your sector.

Build Participation

Surveys are a great way to invite your larger constituency to participate — and feel heard. They also give you great aggregate information to share with, intrigue, and grow your audience.

In fact, we’re developing a survey to learn more about challenges faced by nonprofit communication staff who don’t have a background in communications. Our goal is to learn how nonprofits can better hire, train and design job roles that allow both organizations and “slash/marketers” to thrive.

Keep an eye out for it so you can share your thoughts!

And as a warm up – jump in on this one-question micro-survey:

Need help getting to know your audience better? Give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at