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Reach people where they are.

A survey isn't much of a survey if no one takes it.

This blog post is part of our surveying best practices series that we’re featuring during the summer of 2021. The series will highlight important lessons we’ve learned over the past 20 years.

So, you’re thinking about surveying your stakeholders? Maybe you’d like to better understand your staff members’ experiences throughout the school year? Or perhaps you’d like to gauge your community’s support for needed facility updates?

Sending a survey out is the easy part.

Getting people to participate?

Well, that takes insight.

School Perceptions administers staff, parent, student, and community surveys on behalf of school districts throughout the year. The easiest and most efficient way to reach the vast majority of these groups is via email. But then what?

We often get asked about the length of time a survey should stay open and how many times reminder emails should be sent before you’ve “bugged” your stakeholders too much. These details are small but very, very important.

Length of time

Staff, parent, and student surveys typically stay open for around two weeks. That’s just long enough to send a couple of reminder emails and usually allows anyone who has taken a vacation, for example, to return home, check their unopened emails, and take the survey.

Additionally, our standard process is to send three total emails – the initial survey email plus two reminders. The reminders, however, are only sent to individuals who have not yet participated. We’ve found that sending three emails is sufficient to achieve a reasonable response rate without pestering people too much.

Time of year

Staff, parent, and student surveys are launched throughout the school year. We typically start surveying in late September (after staff and students have been in school for about a month) and try to close surveys by or before the last day of school. These stakeholders are best surveyed during the school year since school is not at the top of their priority lists during the summer months!

A small number of these surveys, however, are meant to be administered earlier or later in the school year – for example, our High School Exit Survey. This survey is most often conducted during the mid-to-late spring, which gives seniors a chance to reflect on the bulk of their final high school year, as well as years gone by.

The elephant in the survey room

Now, let’s talk about community surveys. These are a different “animal,” if we can call them that. Because the bulk of your voting population is 65 or over, and most school districts don’t have access to their community members’ emails, mailing paper surveys is still recommended. We’ve helped coordinate the printing and mailing details of roughly 3 million surveys and continue to add to that total each spring and fall.

Length of time

Community surveys typically stay open for a bit longer than parent, staff, and student ones. We suggest you keep them open for two full weeks plus three weekends. In the end, that equates to two and a half to three weeks. That allows any vacationers who travel to their vacation spot one weekend and back home the next weekend to still have a week to get through their mail and participate in the survey.

Time of year

Speaking of spring and fall, those are the two primary times school districts survey their community. It’s pretty common that a school district in Wisconsin, for example, will survey its community members the fall before a spring election (or the spring before a fall election). That allows the district to gather input and adjust plans before the final ballot question needs to be submitted.

How people actually, you know, get it?

One central question remains: how do we get a survey to all our district residents? We get asked this question all the time … usually with some underlying concern or anxiety.

Most districts don't keep an updated list of residents on hand because fewer and fewer paper mailings are being sent. Fortunately, we regularly work with a printing company that can use your district’s boundary map to pull all residential addresses and PO Boxes to create a mailing list. This has proven to be a reliable way to accurately hit your district’s residents.

And, unlike a list of taxpayers, it will hit all residents, including renters—who are also eligible voters.

In addition to the mailed (paper) community survey, an email invitation with a one-time-use survey link is also sent to parents and staff members. This is an easy option that allows them to participate on their phone during their lunch break or at the family computer at home. If they live in the district and also receive a mailed copy of the survey, another adult in their household can use it to participate.

Speaking of those online links, we continuously update our software to meet the changing needs of our customers. As a company that offers web-based software to gather data, we have been tracking what devices are used by our customers. The percentage of our customers that used smartphones to interact with our software grew from about one-fifth (21 percent) in 2019 to a little over one-third (34 percent) in 2020.

Several years ago, we predicted the growth in smartphone users and rewrote all our software using responsive web design (RWD). RWD software automatically adjusts how a webpage is displayed based on the device’s screen or window size.

If a survey-taker uses a full-size monitor, the software will take advantage of the extra space to spread out the questions and results. If they use their smartphone, the software will change the menus and question format to be viewed easily on the smaller display.

The chart below shows what percentage of people access our surveys by common platforms.


One more option to make survey-taking easy for everyone is to provide a translated version. Upon request, we can have any survey translated into multiple languages. A print-ready copy can be provided, and/or we can load a Spanish version online so participants can select which language they’d prefer.

Whether you survey on paper or online, in English or another language, there’s an “art” to it.

We’re pretty artsy, so we’ll be happy to take the wheel and make something out of your blank canvas!


The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Chelsea Davis, Data Analyst, and Tim Mikula, VP of Technology.


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