Clare Mills: “Please take our quick survey”

I wonder how many times you’ve seen an email, website pop-up or social media post with this call-to-action over the past couple of years? Do these five words inspire you to share your experiences and contribute to sector insight – or do they trigger your ‘delete’ response quicker than an invite to invest in crypto? But don’t rush to dismiss that survey…

One not to ignore is the current survey from Pro Bono Economic and Nottingham Trent University’s National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory. Building on the tracker work carried out during the pandemic, the State of the Sector Survey has been backed by all the major national membership bodies, including Charity Finance Group. The survey asks for your data to help measure the impact of the cost of living crisis on the social sector. Filling it out is vitally important: the data will let policymakers and funders know what support is needed and where.

You may be feeling ‘survey fatigue or a sense of ‘not again’… At least since the start of the pandemic, it feels like I’ve had numerous requests for data and insight on charities’ activities and experiences. And – full disclosure – I’ve sent out a good many requests myself. For those of us who are always looking for insight and understanding, the ‘quick survey’ is a tried and tested tool for gathering quantitative and qualitative data. When we’re looking to shape policy, respond to government consultations or align our services and support for social change organisations with your needs, the survey is the go-to tool.

If the survey is to remain a useful tool for policy work, then I think it needs to meet three tests, and the one from Pro Bono Economics and Nottingham Trent does this in full.

First, what’s the why? Surveyors are asking you as charity leaders for your thinking, so we need to be very clear about purpose and potential, to persuade you to help. What’s the question we want to answer? And to what end? Here it’s clear: data will be shared with policymakers and funders so they know where and what sort of support is needed across the VCSE sector.

Second, where’s the trust? Is the request credible? Can you trust the people or organisations to use your data for the reason given and to respect your privacy? Reputation helps here and this survey has also been backed by national sector bodies including, CFG, NCVO and ACEVO.

And third, time is precious. A survey has to be easy to follow, straightforward to complete and above all, if it promises to be quick, then it has to be quick!* The Pro Bono Economics/Nottingham Trent survey addresses this on the opening page by also suggesting ways to make completion easier: “You may wish to have your latest financial account and energy bill statements handy.” A breakdown of the questions can also be found before you start to work your way through the questions.

If you can break through survey fatigue, I urge you to add your views to this important piece of research. The cost of living crisis and the predicted recession are likely to be with us for a considerable time. We’re here to support people, communities and societies in myriad ways; we want to make sure the sector can continue to be an effective contributor and support. Help us, to help you, to help us all.

*I’ve never seen a request to ‘take our lengthy survey.’

**Keen for more surveys? CFG is also working with MHA Macintyre Hudson to determine gaps in trustees’ financial competency and knowledge, to identify opportunities for training and support. It's a short survey!

Dr Clare Mills is director of policy and communications at Charity Finance Group

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