Why conduct a survey? Perhaps you want to see what your members or employees think of your latest benefits package, or see if your donors or customers are turned off by your president’s new tie. Whatever the case, there are numerous ways to conduct a survey.  In all these cases, it’s key to interview people you expect will know the answers, interview enough of them, and interview them at random.

Online Surveys

Online surveys have grown up tremendously in the last three decades, and they’re now mainstream. Early challenges – such as a lack of audience – have largely been eliminated, only to be replaced by other challenges such as a disinterested public. Today, they are a common and increasingly sophisticated component of many research plans.

It probably goes without saying, but with an Internet survey, your questionnaire is programmed into a web format using survey software and hosted on an Internet server. You invite potential respondents to visit the Internet survey using a postal mailing, an e-mail invitation or online pop-up announcement, after which people access the survey using their web browsers. Since the respondents answer the questions online, you don’t need to do any further data entry. This allows you to see the results in real-time, as the data is collected.

Online surveys are relatively easy to adjust during fielding. Want to add a question or restrict access to certain types of respondents? Not a big deal with most online surveys.Email address list costs are typically more expensive than lists of addresses and phone numbers.
Online surveys easily skip respondents to appropriate questions based on their responses. This tends to increase the completion rate and minimize data cleaning, both of which deliver better data.Unless donors are quite loyal, organizations with smaller lists may not see enough response to deliver findings with an acceptable margin of error.
Fielding costs are typically lower than offline surveys. Email invites are extremely affordable.Some groups, such as mature donors, are naturally under-represented online.
Online survey data can be displayed in real time frequencies, tables, cross-tabs and even charts for quick analysis and distribution. Care must be taken to observe numerous regulations regarding online contact, including known opted-in names and US-only names to avoid GDPR sanctions.
Results can be collected very quickly. Fielding can take days or weeks instead of longer with other methods.Response rates for purchased email lists have dropped precipitously.

Phone Surveys

With most phone surveys a call center is employed to make outbound calls to a targeted list of phone numbers. Though relying solely on a phone survey to complete a research project is becoming less and less preferable (see the ‘cons’ below), phone surveying is still a very important survey method.

Relatively high response ratesThe cost of phone surveying can be high compared to Internet surveying
Phone numbers are often readily available and affordableThe turn around time for completing a phone survey can vary greatly depending on how busy a call center is, especially during certain times of the year
Respondents have a real person to interact with (unless using Interactive Voice Response)Graphical elements can not be shown to respondents over the phone
The elderly are reachable over the phoneIncreasingly, younger generations are turning away from traditional phone service, and researchers cannot call mobile phones (though they can send text messages)

Mail Surveys

In our wired world mail surveys seem quaint, almost ancient. But they are sometimes the only way to reach a desired audience. With a mail survey, a researcher typically mails their paper survey to the respondent, who returns it for data entry in a pre-paid envelope. In-person survey distribution, and other methods can be combined with mail surveying for stronger response. After the surveys are returned, the data is inputted into a software collection program—either manually or using optical recognition technologies.

Mail surveys are convenient for respondents; they can complete them when and where they prefer.It takes much more time to conduct a mail survey than it does a phone or Internet survey. Allow extra time for material printing, mailing piece preparation, mail delivery, and data entry.
As with Internet surveys, respondents have the opportunity to spend as much time on the survey as they need, which can result in more detailed responses.Mailed surveys compete with other direct mail. Such competition is not exclusive to this format though; email invites must avoid being grouped with spam and phone survey interviewers must compete with telemarketers.
Bulk-rate postage, automated mail preparation, large-quantity printing, and printing paper are all relatively affordable.
A wide variety of affordable mailing lists are available.
Mail surveying can involve outsourcing to numerous different vendors (printers, mail processors, etc.), which requires additional project management time and the potential for external delays.
Researchers have complete control over what is presented to each potential respondent. With Internet surveys, different computer settings can affect how a survey looks on the screen and every phone interviewer will act differently. But with mail surveys, you can print and prepare the presentation to your exact preferences.Respondents are essentially on their own. There is no interviewer to explain instructions, answer questions, or provide clarification. Question-skipping instructions are prone to human error, and respondents can skip whichever questions they do not want to answer. This can result in high levels of abandoned and incomplete surveys. Because of these factors, mail surveys are typically not used for complex issues.
This format works well if a large quantity of information needs to be collected, since interviewer time is not being used as the surveys are conducted. Remember to provide the respondents with some sort of motivation for spending time with your survey. The same goes for Internet surveys.

Online, phone and mail surveys are the most popular methods. However, Campbell Rinker offers other creative survey fielding and contact support methods, which could be added to your plan as dictated by your research objectives…

  • Intercept surveys, e.g. on the street, on the pier, in the lobby, in the mall, door-to-door, etc.
  • Text message survey invitations and reminders
  • Social media invitations

How to Decide What’s Best

Often your research goals, intended audience and resources will dictate the best format — or combination of formats — is best for your particular research objectives. The bottom line is that your collection method must delivers solid data to direct your management decisions.

The most convenient methods are not necessarily the best. Often multiple methods will need to be employed to meet the needs of a particular project.

Campbell Rinker works closely with you to identify your research objectives and design a customized program to fulfill your organizational goals.