How can we get better results from our association surveys?

Surveying your association’s members is important for both marketing and member benefit research, as the results can steer your membership and member benefits efforts in the right direction.  There are many ways to go about it:

– Send paper surveys
– Conduct telephone surveys
– Use online survey systems provided by third parties
– Build your own survey form on your web site
All of the above options are good, and each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of timing, price, response rate, representative results and statistical validity.  Some of those issues are covered in other questions and answers.  For the purpose of this discussion, the focus is on one particular area:  How can your association increase its survey response rate?
The average response rate for associations falls in the range of 11%.  While this is good compared to many surveys conducted by other organizations, it may not be enough to provide full statistical confidence in the results.  At the risk of oversimplifying the math, a sound survey result should ideally have at least 300 responses, and those responses should represent your membership well in terms of demographics (e.g. if primarily only new members respond, the results may not represent your overall membership very well).
How can your association increase the response rate for your surveys?  Here are several ideas:
– Conduct the survey as part of the membership renewal and application processes.  Require that the questions be answered.  Because you don’t want someone to not renew because they don’t want to fill out the association’s cumbersome survey, it’s important to only utilize this technique for very fast, simple surveys.  However, you can virtually guarantee very high participation levels that are representative of your association.
– Have an independent organization conduct the survey.  Sometimes association members are hesitant to complete a survey because they don’t want to reveal information about themselves or their company.  In this case, a third party that assures confidentiality may solve the problem.
– Reduce the size of the survey.  The longer the survey, the greater the abandonment rate.  If necessary, break a large survey into smaller pieces.  For example, many association members would rather complete three one-minute surveys over the course of a year than one three minute survey.  You need not have the exact same members answer all three surveys depending on the design, the questions, and the representative demographics.
– Offer a reward for participating in the survey.  Your association might offer a gift certificate to the bookstore, a meeting discount or a renewal discount.
Surveys of your association’s membership are important because the feedback can make the association a better organization in terms of marketing and attractiveness to the members.  However, it is important to get enough valid, representative feedback via your research to make the results truly useful.  These ideas will help your association get closer to the goal.
What level of response does your association typically receive to your surveys?  What methods have you used to make the association membership more likely to respond?
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