A few thoughts from my just-released e-letter, Critical Issues #2: The Secret Life of Surveys:
The leadership of an organization is likely to be more knowledgeable about the attitudes, interests and concerns of people like themselves than of those with a different stake in the organization and its mission. In membership organizations we have found that interesting issues pop out when we compare survey responses of new, medium-term, and long-term members; members of different ages and life stages, and members who participate primarily in different aspects of the organization, among other variables. This information can help the organization to tailor programs, services and communications to enhance value and retention.
A board of trustees self assessment can be another good use of online survey tools. This can be an effective way to start a comprehensive planning process. A self assessment focuses trustees on the board's performance as a whole, and on their individual performance within that context. This prepares them to approach organizational planning with the requisite self awareness. There are good packaged self assessment tools available for license. Often special circumstances require a different set of questions, and a custom tool may be better.
Conducting a Survey
What is the advantage of using a third party to shape, conduct and analyze a survey? Expertise in constructing questions and analyzing answers will make it far more likely that your data will be meaningful, and that you will have used the survey most effectively to convey information and start a two-way conversation. A third-party e-mail address as the survey's source will get you more honest answers, allow for neutral filtering of raw data, and allow you to pursue non-responders to drive up the participation rate.