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How To Conduct A Community Survey Successfully? (With Best Practices)

Published: Feb 16, 2021

Early on in 2017, Kansas City conducted a community satisfaction survey. 

After the residents showed low levels of satisfaction in the City’s aging infrastructure, the City officials proposed an $800 million repair plan.

Residents backed this plan with their votes, and it passed with a clear majority. The $800 million infrastructure repair plan was the largest general obligation (GO) bond authorization in the City’s history. 

So how did the City come to such a critical decision?

Simple, they asked the people. They asked them what they wanted, and this made it easy for the City to propose a plan which was, unsurprisingly, passed. 

That’s how community surveys help you. They give you valuable insights into what the people want, thereby aiding the decision-making process. 

This post will explain how you can obtain such insights. But first, let’s start by understanding what a community survey is. 

What is a community survey?

A community survey is defined as a compilation of questions sent out to a specific audience, particularly those of a common community, to know more about them. 

It is a study in which people are asked questions about topics of interest to the surveyor. These surveyors could be:

  • Nonprofits organizations
  • Local office administration
  • Advocacy groups
  • Local businesses

What is the purpose of a community survey? 

The purpose of a community survey differs based on who is conducting the survey. 

  • For nonprofits, community surveys help understand people’s preferences about what issues they wish to support and how they want to extend their support. 
  • Advocacy groups conduct community surveys to know more about key issues within the community that needs to be solved. 
  • Local offices rely on surveys to understand the needs of the people so they can come up with policies accordingly. For instance, a municipal office may conduct a community survey to understand the people’s priorities of what infrastructure needs to be fixed and allocate the budget for it accordingly. 
  • Businesses in a community use surveys as a market research tool to know how people feel about their product/service and how they can improve it. 

How do you conduct a community survey? 

A successful community survey is one that gives you high-quality, actionable insights. To get such insights, here are the steps you need to follow: 

  1. Set your objectives for the survey. 
  2. Note down your survey questions.
  3. Test the survey internally or on a focus group.
  4. Send it out to the target audience.
  5. Analyze the responses.

Let’s look at what each step entails. 

1. Set your objectives.

Before you begin writing down the questions for your survey, you need to ask yourself, “What do you want to learn about the community, and how will the survey help you?” 

The answer to this question will give your survey a direction. For example, say that an advocacy group wants to find out whether people of a community have easy access to healthcare. Here’s how they will go about it:

  • Note down what you want to find out and set parameters for potential answers. In this case, the proximity of the nearest healthcare facility could be a potential parameter to judge the state of healthcare. 
  • Determine benchmarks for answers that are considered “good” or “bad”. For example, anything above 2.5 miles for the question above could be considered poor. 
  • Set objectives for outreach efforts. This includes the number of people they want to reach out to, the demographics they wish to cover, the areas, etc. 
  • Plan for actions to take if the results are not satisfactory. For instance, they may want to start a grassroots advocacy campaign if there aren’t ample healthcare facilities in proximity to the community. 

2. Write down your survey questions.

Next, you need to write down all the questions that you think are important to get the insights you need. There are three ways that you can frame your community survey questions as:

  • Open-ended questions in which respondents write detailed answers.
  • Multiple choice questions in which they choose from given options.
  • A mixed questionnaire with both open-ended and multiple-choice questions. 

When writing down these questions, keep these tips in mind to ensure you get useful results: 

  • Make sure that your options are not biased, and you provide good, bad, and neutral choices. Here’s an example:
  • Don’t let the range of numbers overlap. For instance, if one option is from 0-10, the next one should be 11-20 rather than 10-20 as it will corrupt data from people who wish to fill in number 10. 
  • Be sure to implement “skip logic” wherever necessary. Skip logic is a change in question or survey based on the respondents’ current answer. 

For example, in a survey about parents, the first important question would be “Do you have children?” If the participant answers no, do not send them through the next  questions about parenthood. 

  • Provide a good range of answers for multiple-choice questions: For example, Highly satisfied, satisfied, neutral, disappointed, highly disappointed. Don’t provide just two options.
  • State expectations from open-ended questions: This prevents folks from giving inadequate details or giving an overload of data. If you are handing out paper surveys, mention if you want them to answer in ALL CAPS since that may make it easier to read the handwriting/penmanship. 

3. Test the survey internally or with a focus group.

Once your survey questions are ready, you might be excited to send them out. But before you do that, it’s essential to test your questionnaire. 

Start by testing the community survey internally within your organization or team. At this point, ask your team to keep an eye out for: 

  • Typos and grammatical errors.
  • Unclear phrasing or complicated questions. 

For the second round of testing, send out the survey to a focus group or only to a handful of the community members. Apart from the above considerations, look out for:

  • How are participants going through the survey? Do they understand the questions clearly and understand the context, or is it too complex? 
  • Are there any questions they are uncomfortable with answering? 
  • Is there something you missed in the survey? 
  • Was there a writer’s or organization’s bias that you missed earlier?

4. Send out the survey to the target audience.

Once everything is in place, you can deploy the survey to your target audience. There are several ways to do so:

  • Door knocking: Your team can go door to door asking people questions and noting down their responses. 
  • Email and social media: Set up the survey on a tool like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms and share the link through email or social media. 
  • Direct mail: Print copies of the community survey on paper and mail them to people asking them to fill it and mail it back. This method is typically used by government offices. 
  • Phone calls: Use a call center software to call people and ask them questions. Make sure that the software allows you to take notes and collect responses during the call. 
  • Text surveys: Since texts have a 45% response rate, they are good channels to send your community survey.

    You can set up an SMS opt-in campaign and get people to opt-in to fill the survey. Once they do, set up text autoresponders to collect responses, as shown in the image below. 

Learn more about how used text autoresponders to collect data from participants in this case study.

5. Analyze the responses.

Finally, once you get the responses to your community survey, you’ll need to analyze them to turn that data into actionable insights. 

The following steps will help ensure that you analyze your data accurately:

  • Clean up the data: Remove all invalid responses. These include incomplete surveys and bogus responses (e.g., respondents who have chosen the same option for every question or typed gibberish in the text boxes) that may corrupt the insights. 
  • Segment the data: Segment your list of participants into different categories such as age, gender, locality, etc., to see how the results vary with each group. 
  • Read the open-ended responses and take notes: This will take time and a lot of manual effort. But it may reveal something important. When reading elaborate responses, make a summary or take notes of repeated points. 
  • Look out for trends: Have people of one age group responded in similar ways? Can you find a rhythm between answers of one sub-community? Such trends can inform you about differences and similarities between various segments of one community. 

Once you have completed the analysis, you’ll be left with a lot of valuable information that you can then use to inform your actions. 

Community survey best practices

While the above steps show how to conduct a survey, there are a few best practices that will help you enhance your efforts. 

1. Let respondents know about your mission.

Depending on how you’re sending out the community survey, add a small note of your mission statement and what you want to achieve. For example, if you’re promoting a link through social media, mention it in the post copy. If you’re running a phonathon to collect responses, add it in the introduction in your phonathon script

Why do you need to do this?

Because people will not fill out a survey without proper information, motivation, or incentives (or all three). You need to let them know its benefits so that they are motivated to fill it.  

2. Incentivize the survey.

Even if you tell people about your mission and how it will help them, a lot of participants may not feel motivated enough to fill the survey accurately. 

Adding an incentive for filling the survey might just give community members an extra push to participate in the survey. Incentives that you can give out include:

  • Monetary incentives.
  • Exclusive coupons or gift cards.
  • Merchandise like t-shirts or mugs. 

3. Follow up with participants.

Another essential best practice to improve community survey response rates is to regularly follow up with participants. Studies show that follow-ups increase the probability of participants completing the survey by nearly 50%.

People may start filling out the questionnaire but are interrupted in between, for whatever reason, and then forget about it. Others may not even have started filling it out even though they want to. 

To ensure you don’t miss out on these respondents, you need to follow up with them to remind them. You could:

  • Filter out the non-respondents and send them an email follow-up asking them to complete the survey.t.
  • Post a reminder about the survey deadline on social media.
  • Send out text message reminders when the survey deadline is close. 
  • Call up people and remind them (this would require a lot of manpower, though).

4. Use a CRM to store and organize responses.

Whether you’re collecting data online or through offline methods (like door to door canvassing), you need to store it in one central depository for easy access and analysis. 

While some organizations use spreadsheets, the manual effort required and the possibility of error when entering the data into them is high. Using a CRM eliminates these issues. 

When choosing a CRM to store responses, make sure it:

  • Integrates with your survey tool: Whether it’s an online survey tool or a mass texting solution for text surveys. The CRM should be in sync with it to automatically collect and store responses. 
  • Automatically creates reports based on the responses: This gives you an overview of your survey in real-time and makes it easy to analyze the data later. 
  • Enables the easy categorization of data: This helps you see how the results vary among different groups. The CRM should also be able to produce reports based on this segmentation. 


Community feedback is a key source of information, especially for those whose interests lie in aiding the development of the people. Community surveys help facilitate this process of getting feedback and equip you with valuable data.

Having such a clear, data-rich framework removes the guesswork from the decision-making process and helps you make more reliable, data-backed decisions. 

Hopefully, the steps and the best practices described above guide you well in your efforts to conduct community surveys.  

Take your efforts to the next level with this ultimate guide to successful community organizing! Learn the 6 essential steps to create change and build a stronger community. From grassroots advocacy to organizing for success, this guide has everything you need to make a real impact.

Featured image source: Alex Green


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