Gather feedback on your plans or services

To convince donors and funders you often have to demonstrate need for your project or services, or to show them how effective their contribution has been. This involves finding out the experience of people associated with your group. These may be direct beneficiaries (e.g. customers, service users or clients), the wider community you serve (or plan to serve) or your stakeholders. This recipe sets out how you can go about this to get reliable feedback


  • the purpose
  • the questions
  • response format
  • skip logic
  • online survey service
  • research sample
  • sampling size
  • printout (optional)
  • incentive (optional)
  • response deadline
  • survey responses
  • report
  • other research methods (optional)


  1. Clarify the purpose of your research. This will avoid any ambiguities. Write down the purpose, e.g. “To establish whether people would volunteer to take part in a community wasteland restoration project, what skills they would offer and when they would be available” or “to find out from residents of a homeless hostel what improvements they would like to see to meet their needs” Don’t make the purpose too broad as you’ll have trouble focusing the study and getting results you can use
  2. List the questions to ask in order to achieve the purpose of your research. For example, with the homeless hostel above questions might be around the added services or facilities the residents would like, what they don’t like, what needs they have, what interests they have, plus background information about their circumstances such as length of residence, any health issues. If you have new services in mind, for example training workshops, you could have a question to establish level of interest in different training subjects.
  3. Formulate the questions. Avoid leading questions or bias, and make sure they are easy to understand. Choose a specific response format that’s best for each question. This would depend on the nature of the question. Where possible, always opt for questions where you can get specific answers, as these are easier to analyse. For example, you could ask the respondent to choose from a range of options, such as different subjects for training. However, some questions don’t lend themselves to that. Asking someone what interests them would usually have to be an open question. With questions asking for views you could consider a sliding scale type reply, where say 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree. In this case it may be helpful to have a place on the form for the respondent to briefly explain their thinking.
  4. Use skip logic. This means designing a custom path through a survey that changes based on a participant’s responses. If a portion of your survey is about being a parent, the important question to ask is Do you have children? If the participant answers no, don’t send her through 10 questions about children. Send him to the next portion of the survey that is not about having children. This avoids wasting the participant’s time, and reduces the risk of them giving up altogether
  5. Ensure the survey isn’t too long. If you need to ask three questions to accomplish your goal, ask them. More than 10 questions and people are less likely to respond given the time it takes, unless they are already very committed to your group. It’s a good idea to say to participants at the outset how long you would expect completion to take.
  6. Set up the survey. Consider using an online survey service such as SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, or Google Forms They have free versions with choices on different question formats.
  7. Test your survey within your group, and a few of the people you want to respond, to ensure you are asking all the right questions and they are unambiguous. Consider any changes they suggest.
  8. Decide on your research sample. This involves making sure that your respondents mirror the community you are researching. It’s necessary to do this to obtain reliable results if the community is too large for you to survey all of them. So, the people you survey should reflect the proportions in the community where possible, e.g. in terms of ethnicity, age, gender, economic status etc. Where it is possible to survey all members of a community, such as the hostel residents above, you can usually avoid sampling.
  9. Decide on your sampling size. This will depend on your group’s capacity to organise, distribute and analyze the results, and how quickly you need responses. However, the size must be large enough to ensure the research is reliable.
  10. Decide on how you will reach the respondents. The online services above allow you to email out a link for respondents to open and complete. But where you don’t have email addresses, or you are meeting people face to face anyway, or if you think you’ll get a faster response, consider a printout of the survey and handing it out with a clear reply address, or asking the questions in the survey in a face-to-face or telephone interview
  11. Consider providing an incentive for people to respond. A giveaway is a surefire way to motivate people to give up 5 to 10 minutes of their time to answer your questions, for example gift cards or entry into a prize draw. Of course, this will depend on your resources.
  12. Distribute the survey, ensuring you give people a response deadline of 2/3 weeks. About four days before the deadline, if possible, gently remind people about the deadline if they haven’t responded. If you’ve sent out the survey via an online service this can be done straightforwardly by email.
  13. When the survey period is complete, clean up your data by removing any invalid responses, for example people who only partially completed the survey or bogus responders.
  14. Then do the analysis. This involves studying your survey responses, if necessary, segmenting them into categories such as gender, ethnicity, age etc. and see how the results vary within each group. Then summarize your data in a spreadsheet, in a readable form to let your team study the results. For closed questions (i.e. where specific answers are requested) the online services can do this for you automatically, but of course if some of the respondents completed on a paper copy or via an interview you would have to manually enter their responses into the online system for it to be analyzed properly.
  15. Then prepare a report on the research findings – using bar charts, pie charts and graphs to help interpret the data – and include the action points you intend to carry out (or recommend) as a result.


For feedback responses to more complex questions, consider other research methods. For qualitative research this includes interviews, direct observation, participant observation, action research, plus other more evolved methods. Professional input may be valuable here, perhaps by contacting the relevant department of your local university.

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