How to make a great volunteer survey

Every year, thousands of organizations send out volunteer surveys. However, after a full year of active volunteer management, many of the surveys end up just being included in the yearly report, with no actual impact on the actual volunteer program. Dive into the world of survey-making and get useful information from the people who know your organization best: your volunteers

Illustration of volunteer coordinator with survey feedback

Getting Started with a Volunteer Survey

Before sending out your first volunteer survey, it is key to gather the core team and agree on the survey objectives. While some organizations use surveys to measure volunteer satisfaction, others employ these questionnaires to consider their volunteers’ insights during their planning process.

Pat Foster, volunteer coordinator for The Care Forum explains: “The volunteer survey will give The Care Forum some much needed feedback on which to start to get the volunteering team focused on both quality and good practice in volunteering to move forward in the future.”

It is important to keep the survey as focused as possible. Having too many areas of interest indicates that your organization may need a deeper general study, or that you will have to create more than one questionnaire. In this case, less is success!

Designing the Questionnaire

Once you have a clear survey goal, it is possible to design the questions accordingly. Suzy Grady, program director of the Petaluma Bounty Farm, decided to write a volunteer survey that could help to improve their volunteer experience.

“In the survey, we focused on questions relating to the motivation of volunteers, their engagement opportunities, and future opportunities for deeper involvement with the Bounty Farm,” describes Grady.

There are many online survey tools that can help you to create your own survey, Here are some best practices you can follow while creating a volunteer questionnaire:

  • Keep it short (10 questions or less).
  • Make the results anonymous.
  • Use Likert scales.
  • Avoid having too many open-ended questions.
  • Remember to ask some general information, such as age, in order to organize your data.

Keep in mind to choose the right format to write your questions:

  • Radio buttons: which works best for Yes/No questions and multiple choice.
  • Checkboxes: ideal for questions that accept more than 1 answer.
  • Text boxes: best for suggestions and testimonials.
  • Likert scales and Matrix questions: best options for measuring satisfaction.

Examples of Survey Questions

Good questions result in good data. Survey platform Jotform suggests writing questions that evaluate each of the stages in a volunteer life cycle: application, training, service experience, post-service satisfaction. 

Examples of Application Process Questions for Volunteers

  • Was the volunteer application process easy to understand?
  • Where did you hear about our volunteering opportunities?
  • What motivated you to volunteer with us?

Examples of Training Process Questions for Volunteers

  • Did you receive enough training to deal with your volunteering experience tasks?
  • What was your favorite part of our volunteering training sessions
  • What could improve our volunteer training process?

Examples of Service Experience Questions for Volunteers

  • How did your volunteering experience match your expectations?
  • What could have been better during your volunteering experience?
  • What was your biggest challenge while volunteering?

Examples of Post-Service Satisfaction Questions for Volunteers

  • After volunteering with us, how satisfied do you feel?
  • How likely are you to recommend our volunteer opportunities to your friends?
  • In a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your volunteering experience?

How to Get Good Volunteer Survey Data

There is nothing worse than noticing fake data while reviewing survey information (except for⁠—gasp!⁠— blank text fields). To ensure that you get quality insights, nonprofit consultant Tobi Johnson suggests informing the volunteers about the survey and why it matters.

“It’s important to communicate with volunteers before, during, and after you distribute a volunteer satisfaction survey. The more volunteers believe their words have power, the more they’ll be willing to share well-reasoned suggestions,” states Johnson.

Good feedback is based on honesty and will require you to be open to hearing all kinds of opinions, which includes the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

Dealing with Volunteer Feedback

After the last questionnaire has been received, it is time to analyze the data critically. Making assumptions is a mistake, as Ellen Moore Osborne, executive director of Literacy for All Charlottesville/Albemarle, learned from an exploratory survey.

“What the literature told me was going to be important was not identified as important to these volunteers. Listening to the individual LVCA volunteers was important,” recalls Moore Osborne. 

The best thing you can do with your results is to use them in concrete actions. Jane Bailey, head of volunteering development of the nonprofit Action On Hearing Loss, employed her 2018 volunteer survey insights to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the organization.

“The Volunteer Satisfaction Survey 2018 reflects that, largely, our volunteers feel valued, supported, and motivated by the work that we do at Action on Hearing Loss. Clearly, there are areas where we need to make improvements, and we will work with Heads of Services and Volunteer Managers to ensure appropriate action plans are in place to address these areas,” says Bailey.

Publishing the Survey Results

Don’t forget to make the survey results public. Make the data easy to understand and write how you are using the results to improve the organization. Giant Steps Riding, a horse-riding nonprofit, shared their 2019 survey results in a public and friendly blog post aimed to reassure their volunteer team that their opinion mattered.

“The biggest area of concern was adequate volunteer staffing (is that an oxymoron?). Please know that Meghan is constantly recruiting and training, and we are adding new outreach opportunities,” explains the article.

Having the results published in your website and social can help you to keep your current volunteers and attract new ones. David Harstein, founder of nonprofit web consultancy Wired Impact, explains how your site information can draw the interest of future volunteers.

“It’s important that you inspire hope in your potential volunteers.  If the problems you’re tackling feel impossible, volunteering seems meaningless.  But if volunteers believe they can make a difference, there’s a far greater chance they’ll sign up to do so,” states Harstein.

As you can see, asking your volunteers the right questions can result in major improvements and a more trusting relationship. Use  surveys as part of your strategic actions and you will be able to get happier volunteers and grow your overall impact. In other words: just ask!