Jennifer Charney

Knowing what your supporters want to read should be a huge part of your marketing strategy. But how do you know what they want? Ask! Read how Jennifer Charney, communications manager of Save the Redwoods League, started surveying her readers and how the results affected their content. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Jennifer Charney of  Save the Redwoods League

You can gain prospects, testimonials and surprising insights that’ll help you show your worth to your organization and help you choose content for all your communications. How? Survey your readers about your publications.

Since 2009, I’ve been surveying readers about each of the publications I manage for Save the Redwoods League. These publications include an annual report, two biannual print newsletters, a calendar and a monthly enewsletter.

Before we started surveying, my boss and I knew from our statistics courses that we would have to randomly choose a large number of our members to survey to get results that would accurately represent our 20,000 donors. But to get these results, we would have had to hire survey experts for many thousands of dollars. We didn’t have the budget. So I implemented the surveys, because collecting some feedback from our audience was better than none.

The first survey was published on a postage-paid postcard and 2,000 were mailed with our annual redwoods wall calendar, which we produce for major donors as a token of our thanks for their support. The postcard offered donors a chance to win our branded water bottle or tote bag if they answered the 11 multiple-choice and open-ended questions. On the survey, we asked donors

  • if they used the calendar and how
  • what they liked and disliked about it and what they’d like to see in future calendars
  • if they learn about our work (the calendar features our accomplishments)
  • if we should continue publishing it


We got a 10 percent response rate, which is pretty good. These days, so many organizations are sending free calendars to all their members and prospects. We wanted to know if our members use our calendar. The survey showed practically all respondents used and liked the calendar as it is, and they wanted us to continue producing it. Other revelations:

  • Recipients write reminders on the calendar, even in these days of Outlook calendars and smartphones. (I rely on my iPhone calendar.) Writing on the paper calendar makes sense because our members are older, and that’s what they’re accustomed to. But we assumed they used the calendar primarily as a decoration.
  • They wanted to receive the calendar in October, not November.
  • The date numbers and the hole for hanging were too small.
  • They wanted more variety in the photos.
  • We also asked them if they visit our website. Most said they did not because they don’t have access to a computer, or they don’t know how to use one.

According to this feedback, we changed subsequent calendars and our other publications. This publication continues to be among our donors’ favorites.

A similar printed survey of our Bulletin newsletter garnered 600 responses. About 98 percent of them said they read the newsletter, and the great majority of their comments were positive. Results also revealed their favorite parts of the newsletter and suggestions for improvement.

Online Surveys

Later, we mailed print surveys with our newsletters and annual reports and posted the same questions on our website using the Convio survey tool. A free or low-cost alternative to Convio is SurveyMonkey. Our recent survey about our annual report drew 112 responses online. Questions covered likes and dislikes, suggestions for improvement and whether the report inspires them to protect the redwood forest. (Always include a question that will help show if your publication achieved its goals. For example, a goal of our annual report is to inspire continued support.)

Our surveys continue to give us valuable insight. In addition, publicizing the surveys on our home page and in our social media cultivates new prospects (42 percent of the online annual report survey respondents indicated they are nonmembers who signed up to receive our emails or they found the report through our home page) . Our surveys require the respondent’s email address, which we add to our enewsletter and emailing list with the respondent’s permission.

Surveys about our newsletters also give us story topics, because we ask what readers would like to see in future editions. Another bonus is that surveys yield praise that we publish (with the respondent’s permission) in promotions.

Survey results also give you a baseline against which you can measure future results. And last, your senior managers and board members will get an idea of what your readers think about your publications and your organization so you can make improvements.

Jennifer Charney is the communications manager at Save the Redwoods League. She’s an award-winning professional communicator with substantial experience in writing, editing, training, presenting, developing and implementing programs, recruiting and leading personnel, and creating successful electronic and print communications for corporations and nonprofits. Get more marketing communications tips by following her on Twitter @JenniferCharney.