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Welcome to the first part of the new NCVO website. While we finish building it, you will find the rest of our help and guidance on our existing site.

Delivering successful online surveys and choosing the right survey platform

Use this page to learn about getting good survey response rates, get tips on survey design and compare different survey platforms.

Getting a good response rate to your online survey

Getting a good response rate matters when you want to report what numbers and percentages of people say certain things or have certain experiences. A good response rate means your results are more likely to be representative of the population you're surveying. If you get a 1% response rate your findings cannot really be trusted because you don’t know what the other 99% think. It’s also quite likely that your 1% are biased in some way. As the response rate increases, it reduces these risks and you can feel more confident.

Aim for:

  • 20–30% – acceptable
  • 30–50% – good
  • more than 50% – great.

People are being sent surveys all the time, so you have to think carefully and plan well to get a good response rate.

Reminders are important

The main reason people don’t fill in surveys is because they don’t have the time at the moment they receive your request.

You see this clearly when you send out a survey and check your responses. Nearly all of your responses will happen within a day of sending it out.

After a couple of days, you will stop getting any responses at all. So the best way to get a decent response rate is to keep reminding people to fill your survey in – because eventually you'll reach them at the right moment.

What type of reminder works?

It’s much better to directly contact the people you want to complete the survey, rather than hoping they come across it. This means email is the most successful method, as are other methods such as SMS or WhatsApp where you have direct contact details for the person.

You could send reminders to everyone you sent the survey to in the first place. But that risks annoying people who already filled it in.

To help with this some survey software has built-in 'respondent management'. You send emails out through the survey platform itself and it assigns unique codes to those email addresses so it recognises when people have responded.

This means you can send reminders only to people who haven’t responded. You can even set this to happen automatically. Respondent management also allows you to automatically link people’s responses to data you already have about them, meaning your questionnaire can be shorter.

If you are doing a small group survey (for example a ten person training course) you might be able to do personalised reminder management manually. But with larger surveys using respondent management is the only way to do this efficiently.

You can also use other methods to get your survey out, such as:

  • Twitter
  • newsletters
  • links on your website.

But expect much lower response rates from these methods.

Other good practices in survey design to increase response rates are to:

  • keep the survey as short as possible
  • write a short and engaging introductory email
  • keep your survey jargon-free, relevant and interesting to respondents
  • include an open question at the end where people can express their own views in case the questions didn’t give them that opportunity
  • offer an incentive (like a prize or a charitable donation for completion)
  • make the survey look nice and give it a general sense of professionalism
  • put your contact details on the survey so people can get it in touch with queries.

Designing questions and ordering surveys

You can find excellent guides to how to write your survey questions. Use them to help you think about which features matter most to you when you choose the platform you want.

Choose from:

Comparing software and making decisions

We have compared six leading survey platforms.

  • Typeform
  • Survey Monkey
  • Smart Survey
  • Alchemer
  • Microsoft Forms
  • Google Forms

As you look through our table comparing what they offer, keep the following in mind.

  • For paid-for platforms, their free platform is designed to hook you in. But if you only need to do small, relatively informal surveys you may be able to make it work for you.
  • Google and Microsoft offer survey tools within the Google suite and Office 365. Their respondent management does not work as well as it needs survey respondents to log in. They don’t offer as much customisation of look and feel as some of the paid for platforms.
  • Most of the paid-for platforms offer very similar functionality. We’ve given you an indication of the range of tiers available.
  • Pricing can be confusing and changes often. Double check with the platform to make sure you are getting what you need.
  • You can assess any other survey builders not in this table using the same criteria.

How does our comparison table work?

Most of the information in the table below is self explanatory. Here are some reminders of important things to look for.

What is included?

We tell you how many surveys, with how many questions, and how many responses per month. We tell you how many users (survey creators) a plan lets you have.

Respondent management

We tell you whether it is built in, and if it needs your survey respondents to do anything, or if it just works.

Look and feel

We give a sense of how much flexibility you get. Are there templates? Will you be able to add a logo?

Question types

We’ve listed the main question types most tools offer – look at these alongside guides to writing questionnaires to see which you need most.

Question logic

Do you want to show people different questions based on their answers? We let you know if you can do this or not. It's called skip logic, question logic or branching logic.

Reporting functions

Some packages run analysis for you on screen and let you download reports. Most packages download a CVS or XLS file (for Excel) to do your own analysis. Some free versions of paid-for tools don’t let you do that - so double check the table.

We try to give you a sense of what can be done on screen as well as what formats you can download.

Comparison table

Use the 'get the data' button to download the table as a spreadsheet so you can add comparisons of other survey building tools.

Other survey tools to think about

This page focuses on survey platforms used for formal surveys. You can also do quick quizzes and polls to get information fast. Social media offers a wide range of possibilities including:

  • Zoom polls
  • Mentimeter
  • LinkedIn polls
  • Facebook polls
  • Slido.

But these are not suitable for serious, formal surveys.

You can also explore this review of online survey platforms and tools carried out for Datawise London and Superhighways.

Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

Help us improve this content

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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