Volunteer Survey Guide: The Best Questions to Ask and Easy Templates to Use

A volunteer survey is a worthwhile addition to any nonprofit’s toolbox. Surveys are a great way to gather data and analyze your volunteer program, and lend themselves to relatively high return rates, according to volunteer professionals. In addition to gathering feedback, there are a variety of uses for the volunteer survey. In this guide, we’re answering volunteer professionals’ most commonly asked questions about surveys. We’re also providing downloadable volunteer survey templates and samples to guide you along the way. Let’s jump right in.

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Why Should We Conduct a Volunteer Survey? 

Your main aim in conducting the volunteer survey is to gather feedback or information from your volunteers. Most importantly, your organization should conduct volunteer surveys or questionnaires to help evaluate current processes and guide future decision making. When used effectively, volunteer surveys can help your organization improve programming, direct recruitment efforts, and develop substantial qualitative reports. You may choose to collect some of the following information from your volunteers, depending on your organization’s needs:

  • Contact information
  • Demographic data
  • Availability and scheduling
  • Skills and interests
  • Experience feedback
  • Market research (such as volunteer attitudes and motivation)

Some surveys or volunteer questionnaires are used by volunteer coordinators to simply gather the information needed to contact volunteers and schedule them, like volunteer contact information, availability, and interests. Other surveys are more involved and may be used to analyze volunteer attitudes toward your programs with the purpose identifying potential areas of improvement. These types of surveys will require a bit more strategy to compile and analyze, but can give you valuable insight to help inform strategy.

How Can Volunteer Surveys Impact Our Program?

Before you create your survey, think about the goal or purpose of the survey. What are you hoping to achieve by collecting information from your volunteers? Do you want to improve volunteer well-being? Reduce volunteer turnover? Or perhaps direct administrative processes? By gathering the right feedback and data from program participants, you can take informed actions to direct your program and achieve outcomes like these:

Improve or Increase:

  • Training and Orientation Effectiveness
  • Volunteer Well-Being
  • Employee Well-Being
  • Service Recipient Well-Being
  • Volunteer Engagement
  • Marketing Cost Effectiveness
  • Volunteer Program Return on Investment
  • Impact Measurement & Reporting
  • Impact Measurement and Reporting
  • Grants and Funding

Reduce:

  • Volunteer Turnover
  • Program Costs
  • Recruitment Costs

Direct:

  •  Program Initiatives
  • Marketing and Communication Efforts
  • Administrative Processes

To achieve these outcomes, your organization will need to ask the insightful volunteer questions based on your goals, distribute effectively, and report results efficiently. Let’s start by answering some of the most important questions nonprofit professionals ask about volunteer surveys.  

How Do We Create a Volunteer Survey?

There are a lot of questions that go into making and conducting a successful volunteer survey. Here are the most frequent questions we here along with our top tips to make the creation and distribution of feedback gathering simpler and more effective:

What Tool Should We Use to Create the Volunteer Survey?

There are many online survey and polling tools you can use. Google Forms offers volunteer form templates and consolidates results into an easy-to-read report. Some volunteer management software systems have integrated volunteer survey templates and questions tools to enable coordinators to capture the information they need when a volunteer registers with your site, signs up for a shift, or logs hours.

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Integrated tools are convenient, as all data is captured with the same system you use for your other management processes, and results are stored in a centralized database. However you choose to create your survey, we recommend you do so online with a secure platform. Online surveys are easier to distribute and collect and tend to lead to quicker response times. 

How Should We Distribute the Volunteer Survey?

We find that the best way to conduct your volunteer questionnaire or survey is online, either through email or your volunteer management platform. However, it’s important that you don’t exclude any of your volunteers without internet access or email addresses. So, consider having a paper version handy. Here are top ways to distribute a volunteer survey:

  • Online platform: You may already use a volunteer management software where volunteers register for opportunities, submit their information, and log hours. Some volunteer management platforms have an integrated survey tool, making it easy to collect data from volunteers when you need it. 
  • By email: You can distribute the survey by emailing your volunteers. If you created the survey online, you can copy and paste the link in the body of the email, or attach a PDF copy. Online survey tools will allow you to collect survey responses anonymously, which can yield more accurate results. 
  • By mail: Some of your volunteers may not have regular access to the internet. In this case, consider mailing a paper survey. Give respondents clear instructions on when and how to submit their survey responses (i.e. include a deadline and mailing address). You may want to include a pre-addressed and stamped return envelope to reduce barriers and increase response numbers. 
  • In person: Sometimes, you may want to ask volunteers to fill out your survey in person. For example, following a training session or event, you can ask volunteers to fill out your survey before they leave, and while the information is still fresh in their heads. Keep in-person surveys brief; remember, they’re already volunteering their time.

Whichever distribution method you choose, be sure to clearly communicate the deadline (the date by which you want respondents to submit their responses) and clear instructions about how to submit their survey. If you want the survey to be submitted anonymously, make sure to include this in the instructions.

How Do We Determine Sample Size?  

If you’re conducting a survey for research or reporting, you’ll need to determine the sample size required to get an accurate picture of the data you’re trying to collect. Sample size is the number of completed surveys you should strive to analyze. The simplest way to determine is by using an online sample size calculator. There are several free options available with a quick internet search. You will need to input the following information into the calculator:

  • Population Size: The number of total volunteers in your program
  • Confidence Level: This is expressed in a percentage. The recommended standard is 95%. This means that if the sample size were surveyed repeatedly, the results would match the results of the actual population surveyed 95% of the time. A 100% confidence level means there is no doubt that the sample size results would match the total population results every time; while this doesn’t exist in statistics, it’s helpful in visualizing what we mean by confidence level. If you’re still unsure, stick with industry standard (95%) when calculating sample size. 
  • Margin of Error: The margin of error in statistics accounts for the percentage of random sampling error in a survey’s results. The greater the margin of error, the less confidence someone should have that surveyed sample results represents the results if the entire population were surveyed (or the “true” results). A +/- 5% margin of error is a standard entry for your volunteer survey.

Using a complicated formula, these three values will give you your sample size. Let’s say, using the industry standard for confidence level and margin of error, your program has 2,000 total registered volunteers. Per the sample size calculation, you will need to collect surveys from 323 volunteers to get results you can trust. 

How Do We Get People to Participate?

Here are a few volunteer incentive ideas to boost response rates:

  • Clarify the benefits. While most of your volunteers just want to help you out, let them know how they can benefit from taking the time to fill out your survey. Will it help your organization improve the volunteer experience? Will you be able to better match them with an opportunity they’ll love? Include this brief but punchy text in a letter, in the body of your email, or as an introduction to the survey. 
  • Make it Anonymous. Volunteers may shy away from taking your survey if they’re forced to put their name on the survey, or return the survey via personal email. If you’re worried about getting feedback from volunteers that’s honest and constructive, keep your surveys and forms anonymous. Likewise, if you’re sharing survey results with the public, inform your volunteers.
  • Communicate the purpose. Why do you need volunteers to complete the survey? What is your organization hoping to glean from the results? Be transparent about your organization’s goal and volunteers are more likely to understand that their feedback has real implications for your organization. Again, communicate your goals in an introduction to the survey. 
  • Offer a small incentive. A raffle ticket for a prize drawing or a small gift card to Starbucks can be enough to encourage volunteers to take your survey. 
  • Build hype on social media. Announce your survey on social media or your website and include a link to the survey location. Make your post engaging and include a call to action. Here’s a fun example:
    “Calling all community superheroes! It’s time for our Annual Volunteer Impact Survey and we need you, our trusty volunteers! Click here to share your voice.”
  • Send a few friendly reminders. Your volunteers are busy, and may just need a reminder or two to complete your survey. We find that a friendly, gentle email does the trick. Don’t bombard their inboxes, however, or you’ll just annoy your volunteers.

What Questions Should We Include in Our Volunteer Survey?

Before you develop your set of questions, you’ll want to figure out the primary goal or purpose of the survey, and how you will use the survey results to guide decision making. Perhaps you want to know how you can improve your volunteer retention rates, but you have determined that you cannot formulate an informed strategy until you learn more about what’s driving your volunteers to stay or leave. Ultimately, the intended goal or purpose of your survey will help you develop the appropriate questions, so that you’re more likely to get the answers you need to make key decisions. 

What’s the Right Survey for Our Goals?

Use this table of the most common volunteer survey topics to choose the one that best matches your organization’s goals. Note that this table only offers suggestions, and you’re not limited to these volunteer survey examples. (This table is followed by a breakdown of the most commonly used questionnaires and forms, with nonprofit volunteer survey samples.)

Management CategoryPrimary GoalActionType of Survey to ConductWhen to Administer
Volunteer Retention Understand why your volunteers want to participate with your organization and what may cause them to leave. Use volunteer feedback to analyze and guide volunteer retention efforts.Volunteer Satisfaction SurveyWithin 24 hours of volunteer participation
Volunteer EngagementUnderstand the motivations of volunteers to better engage them.Use qualitative feedback to analyze and direct engagement efforts. Volunteer Engagement SurveyAnnually
Volunteer RecruitmentUnderstand what drives volunteers to sign up and how they found your organization. Use feedback to recruit more volunteers and guide marketing strategy to prospective volunteers.Volunteer Recruitment SurveyDuring volunteer registration or onboarding
VolunteerPlacementUnderstand the interests and specialized skills of each volunteer. Match volunteers to the right opportunities based on their skills and interests. Volunteer Skills and Interests SurveyDuring registration or onboarding
Volunteer Impact ReportingUnderstand how volunteer work is making an impact, from the volunteer point of view. Report impact based on volunteers’ perceptions and experiences. Volunteer Impact SurveyQuarterly or Prior to end of funding cycle
Volunteer PerformanceUnderstand how our organization can better train and prepare volunteers. Perform volunteer evaluations based on their performance and preparedness for their work. Volunteer Evaluation FormAnnually

Once you decide which survey is right for your use case, you can use the guide and the nonprofit volunteer survey samples below to help you formulate the right volunteer survey questions. 

Volunteer Satisfaction Survey

This is a commonly used survey among volunteer coordinators, and it’s used to understand whether your organization and its practices are meeting the expectations of your volunteers. Volunteer professionals may use this survey if they are concerned about retention rates, or want to report on the volunteer experience to community members, the board, or donors. Below, we’ve compiled some sample volunteer retention survey questions that can help report on the volunteer satisfaction.

Volunteer Satisfaction Survey Questions

  • How would you rate your overall experience? 5 = positive experience, 1 = negative experience. 
  •  How satisfied did you feel after volunteering? Very Satisfied, Satisfied, Neutral, Unsatisfied, Very Unsatisfied
  • How likely are you to recommend our volunteer opportunities to friends, coworkers, or family? Very Likely, Likely, Unsure, Unlikely, Very Unlikely
  • How many hours of training did you receive for your assigned volunteer role? None, 1-3 hours, 4-6 hours, 7+ hours
  • Please rate the training you received. Very Helpful, Helpful, Neutral, Unhelpful, Very Unhelpful
  • How valued did you feel as a member of our organization? Very Valued, Valued, Neutral, Undervalued, Very Undervalued
  • How likely are you to volunteer with us again? Very Likely, Likely, Unsure, Unlikely, Very Unlikely

     

Questions that use metrics (like the ones above) to rate experiences are especially effective for quantifying and visualizing results. They provide a snapshot of volunteer satisfaction, while yielding enough detail to make more substantial claims that questions with “Yes or No” answers. They’re quick to fill out, so you can administer more frequently than open-ended surveys. That’s not to say you can’t add in a few brief open-response questions to get a better sense of volunteer sentiment. Open-ended questions like these are appropriate for gauging volunteer satisfaction:

  • What do you enjoy about volunteering with us?
  • Did you receive recognition or non-financial benefits when volunteers with us? If so, what did you receive?
  • What would you say is the main reason you volunteered with us?

The best volunteer surveys are a succinct mix of types of questions, like matrix, multiple-choice, and open-ended. When compiling your volunteer satisfaction survey, make sure every question is focused, and reflects the purpose of the survey. It can be tempting to want to get all the answers from your volunteers in one mega-survey. However, you’re much less likely to get honest responses (or any responses at all) if you’re asking your volunteers to fill out a 20 page questionnaire. 

So, how long should your survey be? Generally, surveys should take less than 7 to 8 minutes to complete (as abandon rates increase after 8 minutes). That’s an average of 3 to 10 questions, depending on the type of answers you’re asking volunteers to provide. Bare in mind that you will need to gather enough data from your volunteers in order for the survey to be effective. Striking the balance between too few and too many questions is key to gathering insightful data from your volunteers. 

Volunteer Engagement Survey

Learn why your volunteers do the work they do. Some of the questions may overlap with your satisfaction survey, but here you’re asking volunteer motivation questions that get at the deeper reasons your supporters stay engaged with your cause. This survey can also help your organization learn about the issues that are most important to your community. 

Volunteer Engagement Survey Questions

  • Do you feel your volunteer work is significant or impactful? If you answered no, please explain the factors that may make your volunteer work more meaningful.
  • Do you feel comfortable sharing your input or suggestions with us? If you shared your suggestions and feedback before, how were they received? 
  • Do you feel like a valued member of our organization? What is something that we could do to make you feel valued? 
  • What do you think is the most important work you do for the community through our organization? 
  • What do you think is the most important work you do to support paid staff?
  • Have you identified a need in our community that you think our organization could address? Please explain.
  • In what ways can our organization be more supportive of your work as a volunteer?
  • What motivates you to volunteer?
  • Do you feel that you received enough training and information to feel prepared and carry out your volunteer work as effectively as possible?
  • Do you feel your efforts had noticeable results? Were these results communicated to you?

     

When analyzing the answers to open ended questions like these, bare in mind that the answers will yield qualitative results. While quantitative results are numerical, qualitative are anecdotal. A quantitative result may read, “50% of volunteers felt their training was valuable.” On the other hand, qualitative results require a bit more analysis, but will invite volunteers to share their thoughts and stories. These probing questions should help you to understand what motivates your volunteers, how they perceive the effectiveness of the work they do, and how your organization can support their work.

It may feel overwhelming to consolidate data that isn’t simply numerical. Start by looking for patterns and the most pressing results based on your volunteer answers. Did a portion of your volunteers report feeling undervalued? Start by focusing your attention on these answers, and compile a list of the specific reasons why volunteers did not feel valued. Only after you have a solid sense of the why will you be able develop real solutions.

This report from the University of Notre Dame outlines key volunteer motivations that can also help you to formulate probing questions and support your volunteer engagement research.

Volunteer Recruitment Survey

The goal of this volunteer survey is to zero in on the reasons and means by which new volunteers are compelled to sign up with your organization. You can use this information to direct resources toward your recruitment and marketing efforts. Here are some effective sample questions to get the most out of your survey.

Volunteer Recruitment Survey Questions

  • How did you hear about our organization? Newspaper, Email, Ad, Online, Coworker, Family or Friend, Social Media, Other (Please specify). 
  • What compelled you to volunteer with our organization?
  • By which means did you register with our organization?
  • Please specify the volunteer work or role did you register for? If you have not registered with an opportunity yet, please specify.
  • Were you provided with a clear position description?
  • Please rate the ease of locating and signing up for a volunteer opportunity. Very easy, easy, neutral, difficult, very difficult
  • How soon were you contacted after registering with our organization?
  • How were you contacted? Phone, Email, Letter
  • If you received assistance from staff, how would you rate your experience? Very helpful, Helpful, Neutral, Unhelpful, Very Unhelpful
  • Is there anything we can do to improve your registration experience?

     

The recruitment survey can serve as a brief addendum to your volunteer follow-up or registration form to consolidate onboarding documents and simplify volunteer registration.  

Volunteer Registration Form

This survey or form is practical in purpose and is simply used to gather the important information required to coordinate and schedule volunteers. Here are some sample volunteer form questions to consider:

Please enter the following contact information:

  • Last Name, First Name
  • Primary Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Zip Code
  • What is your availability? Please circle the days that work for you, and specify morning, afternoon, or evening.
  • Do you have any specialized skills that you think would be well-suited to the program?

You can also download our Sample Volunteer Sign Up Sheet, which includes volunteer scheduling and volunteer interest questions.

Remember, if you have a volunteer management software, you can easily capture volunteer contact details, signed waivers and qualifications, interests and skills, and any other custom information in one, centralized process. 

Volunteer Evaluation Survey

Remember that volunteers are donating their free time to your organization, and volunteer evaluations should be administered appropriately. So, you may not need to evaluate all of your volunteers. However, your organization may be required to administer volunteer evaluations for employee volunteer grants, students participating in service learning, and court-mandated volunteers. Or you may ask a sample of your volunteers to participate in a volunteer evaluation survey for improving your volunteer program processes.

Download our Volunteer Performance Evaluation Template for Excel.

More Volunteer Survey Tips

Keep your survey succinct. Shorter surveys tend to yield higher response rates. Therefore, your volunteer survey should only take a few minutes to complete (around 10-12 questions). Limit open-ended questions If you’re conducting a more involved survey and need to make it longer, we recommend including progress bars (if available) so volunteers can save their answers as they go along.

State the purpose of the survey. At the top, or beginning, of each survey clarify the purpose precisely. What is your organization hoping to learn? From whom are you hoping to learn this information?

Avoid ambiguous questions. Your volunteers should know exactly what you’re asking, especially if you’re asking open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about the work you do?” This example is vague, and may lead to confusion on both ends. Instead, add enough context to direct your volunteers’ answers. Try questions like:

“Do you feel like the volunteer work you do is important to the community?”

“Do you feel like a valuable member of our organization? Please briefly explain why or why not.” 

“What do you feel is your most important contribution to the community?”

 Avoid cramming too much into one question. Questions with many parts can make volunteer answers difficult to analyze. Instead, isolate each question so that volunteers can provide a single brief answer for each question you’re asking.

Avoid leading questions. The goal of your survey is to extract truthful responses. Leading questions can influence participant answers. So, avoid questions like, “Are there any areas of improvement you’d like to see in training, such as the length of training?” Instead, try questions like, “Are there any ways you think training could be improved? If so, please explain.”

 Avoid overlapping numbers in multiple choice options. You want your numerical data to be as precise as possible. Avoid: “How many hours did you volunteer this month? Select: 0-10, 10-20, 20-40.” Instead: “How many hours did you volunteer this month? Selection: 0-10, 11-20, 21-40.”

 Include the “other” option. You don’t want to force your volunteers to choose an answer that doesn’t apply to them. When providing multiple choice answers, include an “other” option with a blank space for survey participants to fill in their own answers.

 Distribute in a timely manner. Distribute volunteer questionnaire forms and surveys within between 24 hours and 48 hours after an event, on-boarding, or training while the experience is still fresh.

Test your questions. Do your volunteers understand what you’re asking? Are you getting the answers you need? Test your questions with a small focus group of volunteers or staff before distributing to the entire sample.

What Do We Do with the Volunteer Survey Results?  

Your surveys should have real implications. Volunteers took the time to share their feedback, now you can use this information for good! The goal of every survey you conduct is to collect information that informs actions your organization will take, and all actions should focus on furthering your organization’s mission.

  1. Look for Consistencies. While every participant’s feedback is important, you may not be able to put into action every suggestion from your volunteers. Instead, start by identifying the recurring, major themes, problems, and successes. Some online survey tools or volunteer management software will store and tally results for you. Note: To ensure your survey is accurate, make sure to gather enough survey results (based on calculated sample size above) before analyzing and compiling answers.
  2. Compile Your Results. Decide on the information you want to share with your audience. You may be wary of distributing negative feedback, but sharing constructive data can actually demonstrate transparency and gain trust among stakeholders. Remember that personal volunteer information should remain confidential and anonymous. When compiling your data, you can include both quantitative (expressed in percentages and sums) and qualitative data (expressed in quotes, summaries, and case studies). You may also include visuals, like charts and graphs and infographics to add interest to your report.
  3. Share Your Results. With whom should you share your results? Your board, staff, volunteers, or community stakeholders. Some organizations choose to publish annual survey results in a formal report, especially for the use of board members, funders, and other stakeholders. In addition, organizations can share exciting survey results on social media or as a feature in their monthly volunteer newsletter.

Gathering feedback from your volunteers is an essential practice for nonprofits to improve programs, build loyalty, and increase volunteer retention. We encourage you to make the most of your next volunteer survey.