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December 1, 2011 / HandsOnCorps

Surveys, Surveys, and More Surveys!

The past 3 months have been a rollercoaster of activities with all kinds of ups and downs.  Working at a national level with nonprofit capacity building has provided unique challenges but also amazing opportunities.  One of the biggest projects I have taken on can easily be summed up with one simple word: Surveying. 

I’ve done two huge surveying projects thus far.  The goal with our surveying has two functions.  One is to find out the atmosphere internally with the nonprofits/churches we are partnering with, this includes surveying staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries.  The other is to find out what the community feels are the needs and issues and to get some overall information on volunteering.  The first surveying project I worked on was one of my first big duties as an AmeriCorps member.  I organized a couple volunteers, created the surveys, found locations, and was in communication with the church we were partnering with.  We set a high goal of 200 surveys and we hit the streets.  When the day was over we gathered around and counted our 30 community surveys.

Fortunately for me I knew in one month I would be able to work on not being so shy and hopefully improve my surveying skills.  I would get the chance to do more surveying for a different, and much larger, organization.  I was dreading it.  With the first surveying experience under my belt I was able to plan the next one with much more efficiency and carefully thought out plans.  This time I knew how much energy and time it would take.  Although I was still anxious about the whole experience I was much more prepared.  I am still wrapping up this surveying process but we have gotten 150 community surveys and over 100 and still counting surveys internally from this nonprofit. 

Rose with two other HandsOn Corps VISTAs, Everett and Rachel, at their Survelabration.

The information we are collecting is valuable for working on the infrastructure of a nonprofit or church, building capacity and sustainability with volunteers and beneficiaries, and helping show the real needs of the community.  We do a statistical analysis of the information we gather and put it into a personalized Community Engagement Plan (along with many other useful tools).  The statistical analysis can really be beneficial to create clarity of areas that need improvement.  For example the nonprofit we are working with right now is doing a great job mobilizing large numbers of volunteers and meeting the needs within the community, but through the surveying of the volunteers we have found that many feel they are not properly trained.  One solution that is mentioned repeatedly throughout staff and volunteer surveys is that there is no manual for volunteers or staff that can give them essential information about their role within the organization. For a large nonprofit that is continuing to expand, creating a manual could be an excellent starting point for forming a more organized training system.  The surveying we do can provide powerful evidence and be used to help assist upper management in making decisions that will impact the capacity and sustainability of their organization.

I no longer dislike surveying because I can see what a powerful impact the results can have.  I now feel more like a surveying master rather than a surveying disaster.  Of course none of that would be possible without my fellow surveying VISTA Everett Pauls – he taught me about how the TV show “Dog Whisper” can teach you a lot about surveying- and also Rachel Riley and Julia Cain.  And of course since it is so important to keep yourself encouraged, last week we had a little Survelabration (a celebration for doing a great job surveying).  It was a good time to have a little fun and reward ourselves for our hard work and our enormous improvements!

Rose Waller

HandsOn Corps VISTA, The C4 Group

Issaquah, Washington

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