How to design a great volunteer survey to unlock feedback

Volunteers commit their time and skills to help your organization thrive. Even if your volunteer program has been operating for a while and volunteers appear productive, satisfied, and happy, you must ensure your program is operating as effectively as possible.

Volunteer surveys are great for assessing the effectiveness of your volunteer program and the satisfaction of volunteers. The feedback you can collect with online survery tools can identify gaps in training, potential declines in volunteer satisfaction, and future needs of the program. 

Illustration of volunteer coordinator with survey feedback

1. Identify your volunteer survey goals

A volunteer survey is made up of a list of questions for prospective, current, or former volunteers to answer, allowing you to gain insight into their experiences with your organization. Effective volunteer surveys can help you improve a variety of areas in your program, including recruiting and retention. However, it’s important to respect your volunteers’ time and keep your survey as focused as possible. To do this, assemble your team and decide on the main goal of your survey.

According to a recent Volunteer Management Progress Report, volunteer managers have indicated that recruiting new volunteers and putting new or improved processes in place are their top priorities for volunteer engagement. A few more common volunteer survey goals include:

  • Assessing the volunteer onboarding process
  • Creating more engaging volunteer opportunities
  • Improving volunteer satisfaction

Your volunteers have firsthand experience of what it’s like to commit their time and skills to your organization. Therefore, they know what changes you should prioritize to improve your volunteer program. For example, you might discover that many volunteers struggled with using your event software to check in attendees at your latest event and decide to look into a new solution to invest in.

2. Design your survey using online tools.

There are plenty of free online tools that your organization can use to assemble its volunteer survey. But first, you should know some best practices for designing a volunteer survey.

  • Keep it short. Try to keep your survey as focused as possible. If you have too many questions on different topics, it may make your volunteers lose attention or interest. When you keep your survey short and to the point, you avoid frustration.
  • Use Likert scales. The Likert scale survey question uses a scale of five or seven points that ranges from one extreme attitude to another, sometimes referred to as a satisfaction scale. It’s popular in its use as one of the most reliable ways to measure opinions and perceptions.
  • Avoid too many open-ended questions. It’s important to stay focused on the objective of the survey, so using open-ended questions can lead to less relevant responses that may not help obtain the insights you seek.
  • Include a mixture of question formats. Different question formats help focus your survey on the most helpful insights. Radio buttons allow volunteers to choose a single response from a list of available options that are mutually exclusive. Checkbox questions allow volunteers to select multiple answers from a list of choices. You can use text boxes to collect short typed-in answers for more detailed responses.

Additionally, while your survey should ask for general information, such as the volunteer’s age, to better understand your volunteer base, you can maximize participation by providing an option to complete the survey anonymously if desired.

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.

3. Ask relevant questions related to each stage of the volunteer experience.

Good questions result in good data. For a comprehensive understanding of your volunteer experience, consider each stage of a volunteer’s journey with your organization. Your survey questions should help you assess how volunteers see your organization and whether you’re offering the type of experience they had anticipated.

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?

Once you’ve inputted your questions, have your staff members take the survey to ensure that everything works properly before you send it out to volunteers. Having multiple people take it a few times will ensure everything is working correctly and can help identify issues like spelling or grammatical mistakes.

4. Act on volunteer feedback.

Store the information from volunteer survey responses in your volunteer management software. This will provide a reference point when planning future volunteer opportunities for your organization.

While it may not be possible to act on every piece of feedback you receive, identify commonalities in volunteer suggestions to determine which improvements or areas of your program to focus on. For instance, if many of your volunteers report having issues with your payment processor while selling branded merchandise at your events, you might realize that you need to host more training sessions to support them in their roles.

The feedback you get from volunteer surveys will give your organization insights to help improve and grow, increasing volunteer engagement and productivity. When volunteers feel engaged and productive, they are more likely to continue volunteering with your organization and may consider bigger roles.

5. Share your volunteer survey results.

A thorough summary with comments is the best way to show that volunteer feedback actually matters to you. If the survey results get shared with all stakeholders, it will be the best proof for your volunteers that they really have a voice in your organization. 

Here are a few ideas for how to share volunteer survey results: 

  • Website: Your organization’s website is one of the best places to provide a summary of volunteer feedback, either as a blog post or on a devoted volunteering page.
  • Social media posts: highlight key points of your survey feedback in a shorter format to your online followers. You can also link to a more detailed report for those interested in learning more.
  • Email newsletter: it’s best to summarize survey feedback with references to more complete results on your website.
  • Text messages: For those of your supporters who have opted in to receive text messages from your organization, you can send extra short summaries of volunteer feedback along with a comment on the changes you’re planning to make.

Don’t forget to detail the actual steps you’ve taken (or are planning to take in response to volunteer feedback. This will demonstrate your organization’s professionalism and commitment to its volunteers, and inspire more people to get involved.

Your volunteers work hard, donating time and commitment to your cause. Their experience directly impacts your success, so collecting their feedback is crucial. Remember to thank them for taking the time to share their feedback and encourage them to stay involved by sharing other opportunities, whether that’s following your organization on social media or joining your membership program.