One Simple Tactic You Can Use to Be More Effective at Everything

I wish I didn’t have such a “clickbait” title. Even I’d think twice before reading a blog post that suggests it can make you more effective at everything…

But, before you press the back button or open a new tab, please hear me out.

Nearly three years ago when I started writing for the Fundraising Report Card blog (MarketSmart’s free data analysis tool), I made one decision that has changed the trajectory of my career. After drafting my first post, which, if you’re interested you can view here, I created a simple survey.

The survey, which contains just five questions, is presented to every Fundraising Report Card blog subscriber. It asks:

  1. How did you learn about the Fundraising Report Card?
  2. Why did you decide to subscribe?
  3. What type of content are you most interested in reading about?
  4. Do you have an account with the Fundraising Report Card?
  5. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

For the past three years I have asked every single blog subscriber these five questions. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s over 5,500 potential survey responses, of which, nearly 1,500 have completed the form.

Frequently I receive emails from readers that say something along the lines of, “Zach, I recently read your article on X, Y, and Z, and it was super practical and useful. Thanks!” I take little to no credit for these types of messages. I owe nearly all of my “success” to my survey respondents. If they hadn’t answered my second and third survey questions (why did you subscribe, and what type of content are you most interested in) I would have been writing about topics that no one would want to read!

Part of the reason the Fundraising Report Card blog has been able to garner so much traction is because I listen to you. This is all thanks to setting up a simple, five question survey, some 36 months ago.

At this point you may be wondering to yourself, “What does a story about blog subscribers have to do with me being more effective?” If I was in your shoes I’d be wondering the same thing, but have no fear, the parallels are plentiful.

By surveying my audience I was able to set myself up on a path towards success. You to have the same potential in your position. Surveys, which if you hadn’t picked up by now, will be the focus of today’s blog post, can be used (effectively) in myriad circumstances, and in ways you likely haven’t imagined.

Survey more

When it comes to collecting information, surveys are a trusted tool in your toolbox. I may be a bit fanatical, but I use surveys in nearly every aspect of my life, both personally and professionally.

For instance, I use surveys to gather ideas for blog content (the anecdote from above), as well as to gauge the level of employee satisfaction we have here at MarketSmart.

Why? Because simple surveys provide the platform to collect standardized information from an audience. When I ask the MarketSmart team how pleased they are with a certain initiative in May, and then again in July, I am able to see how their overall sentiment has changed. By sending my audience the same survey twice I am able to measure change over time.

When it comes to fostering content ideas, and even product enhancement suggestions, surveys assist there too. Like I discussed above, every Fundraising Report Card blog subscriber is presented a short, five question survey. Unlike the employee happiness survey, this form has multiple questions, and nearly all of them are open-ended. Even though respondents have a free text box where they can enter anything and everything their heart desires, I still come across patterns.

For the past three years, each and every Saturday, I’ve reviewed the most recent blog subscriber survey responses. Each week I look for patterns. Depending on what I uncover, I identify what I will write about that week. It’s super simple, and I know at least a portion of my audience will appreciate that week’s post.

Surveys can be used in other settings as well. For example, I frequently use a website called to create simple, one question surveys that I send to family and friends. “What time should be hold the fantasy football draft?” Was one of the more recent strawpolls I created.

How surveys make you more effective

Effectiveness can be derived in many ways from surveys. Let’s discuss the two most obvious, and beneficial:

  1. Standardized information collection
  2. Ongoing response collection in the background

Standardized information collection

What trend do you think I’ve been able to uncover among the nearly 1,500 survey responses I have received from Fundraising Report Card blog subscribers?

First, I realized that nearly one-fifth of all subscribers come from LinkedIn. Second, I realized that most people (~60% of respondents) are interested in content that relates to “metrics.” This wasn’t too shocking to me, but did reinforce how important it is for me to stay on message each week. Third, when analyzing responses to the “Why did you decide to subscribe?” question, the most frequent theme was, “to learn something new,” (or some variant of that phrase).

By collecting the same information from a large group of people I am able to identify patterns and use them to help inform my decision-making process.

You too have the potential to do this as well.

Ongoing response collection in the background

In addition to collecting information in the same format, surveys provide another practical benefit: they don’t need you to be involved to be executed. An online survey, similar to my Fundraising Report Card blog subscriber form, can be executed without me even being aware. That’s great! This means my time can be elsewhere while more information is being gathered.

You too can collect information while focusing on other responsibilities. Imagine going door-to-door asking individuals to fill out a survey. That’d be ludicrous. Fortunately there are ways to configure surveys online, and you can simply share a link instead.

Plus, depending on the survey questions, there can be a certain level of anonymity associated with responding. If you don’t ask for identifying information your respondent will feel no pressure to lie or alter their responses. This is something I do with the Fundraising Report Card blog subscriber form. I want entirely honest thoughts, and by making it anonymous, I tend to get that.

Well executed surveys should not require you to be consciously asking people a series of questions. No, not at all. Instead, an online survey (or even direct mail survey) can hum along in the background, gathering information, while you continue to do what is most important right now.

By collecting information on an ongoing basis you’ll be able to identify trends over time. For example, my blog subscriber survey has highlighted a shift in my audience’s interests over the past 6-8 months. Thanks to my survey I was able to see this trend coming and react appropriately. The best part was, I didn’t have to have a meeting with the marketing team or create a new project to figure it out, the survey I set up three years ago did the trick.

Three practical ways you can implement surveys right now

How can we apply the power of surveys in your day-to-day life? Here are three examples I have seen work both personally and professionally. If you have any questions about how to execute them, please don’t hesitate to email me (zshefska [at]

Post donation form submission survey

example survey

After a donor makes a contribution to your organization provide them a call to action to complete a survey. Ask questions regarding their interests, why they support the organization, etc.

For more on how to conduct this type of survey, take a look at our comprehensive guide:

Post email subscribe submission survey

example frc survey

After an individual signs up for your email newsletter ask them why they did, how they heard of you, and what information they’re interested in receiving.

Survey yourself each week

example survey from 15five

Every Friday ask yourself “How are you feeling?” on a one to five scale, where one is awful and five is amazing. Answer this question week after week and see how your responses trend over time. I do this in my personal and professional life, and it’s a great way to keep track of my happiness (and what affects it). We leverage a software called 15Five at MarketSmart.

If your organization is interested in surveying, please consider contacting our team at MarketSmart. We’re experts at producing and conducting donor surveys, and we’re especially adept at integrating them into a more robust development program (ie, a survey is only piece of a bigger puzzle). Click here to schedule a call with someone on our team.

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Anne Cademenos
Anne Cademenos
4 years ago

I recently did a donor survey, a very low-tech one (mailed out on paper) and got helpful feedback and some valuable nuggets. I intend to keep up the practice to the extent possible. However, I can’t resist sharing the following hilarious bit as I couldn’t help but think of it while reading your post:


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