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Lessons from 20 years of community surveys

Creating a community-wide survey is extremely valuable. There’s a lot of preparation and thought that goes into survey strategy and development (fortunately, we can make this much easier for you!). And, of course, there are a lot of questions that can move the preparation along:

  • How many responses do we think our school is going to get?

  • How many people typically fill out surveys?

  • How long should a survey be?

  • How will length affect response rate?

  • When is the best time to run a survey?

So, let’s jump to the lessons we’ve learned:

  • Longer surveys are not better surveys. Surveys with the best response rates range between 1,100 to 1,800 words. People don’t have time to read survey “homework.”

  • If you have more information you’d like to include, consider producing an FAQ section on your website.

  • Simple, simple, simple. Architecture, construction, and education jargon are no-nos. Esoteric language simply turns people off. Remember the audience. And remember that the average US adult reads at a sixth-grade level.

We analyzed almost 300 community surveys between 2017 to 2022 to see which months of the year garnered the best response rates and which survey lengths resulted in the most responses.

January appears to have the best response rate at 28%. Interestingly, January is the month with the second-least number of surveys mailed. Other months with a high response rate are July at 26% and December at 25%. The month with the poorest response rate is February at 16%, followed by April at 17%. October, our biggest survey month of the year, is in the middle with a total response rate of 21%. Similarly, our slowest month of the year, August, comes in the middle at 22%. The below chart shows the response rate per month.

Another question that someone might wonder is what survey length are people most likely to fill out?

Our surveys with the highest response rates are our four-page surveys with an average response rate of 27%. Eight pages comes in at 21%. Twelve-page surveys (which we don’t recommend) get an overall response rate of 18%. Postcards and surveys inside of newsletters have a 12% response rate.

We firmly believe in our survey process. Our simple, accessible, and inclusive approach results in our ballot predictions being correct over 95% of the time.

The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Lindsey Naze, Data Analyst.


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