Using Submittable for Surveys

10/08/2020

If your organization uses multiple subscriptions to manage and track digital files and data, you are not alone. Organizations that need to gather data often budget for submission or application software in addition to survey software, like Qualtrics or Survey Monkey. 

The good news is that software like Submittable can also be used to administer surveys. Not only will this save your organization money, but using submission management software for surveys will keep all your data in one place for easy management and organization. 

Why gather data?

Every submission cycle comes with its own surprises and issues. Perhaps your organization got flooded with applications one year and then received very few the following year. Sending surveys out to submitters or applicants can help you gather information about how to expand your reach and improve engagement. 

Perhaps the review process presented some challenges to your staff. Having your review team complete a survey about their experience during the submission review period can help you troubleshoot any issues that came up. And for most organizations seeking funding, gathering data can be a good way to show foundations or your board the impact of your work.  

Surveys can be of value for a wide variety of purposes, including attaining a better understanding of community needs during trying times. No matter why you might need to gather data, it is essential to determine your goal for sending out a survey. What do you want to know and why? Once you have identified your main goal, you can then ask specific questions that will give you the information you need.

Types of data to gather

There are a number of ways to gather data so it is important to determine what kind of data would be most useful to your organization before you design the survey. If you want to identify the demographics of your submitters or applicants, for example, you might design a survey that provides a number of options to select from. 

Alternately, if you are seeking specific feedback about your work’s impact, you will want to send out a survey that allows users to individualize their responses. Consider which of the following types of data will give you the information you need to determine next steps for your organization: 

Categorical questions

These types of questions offer a number of options for respondents to choose from. For example, the survey question might ask, “How did you hear about our organization?” and the responses users can select from might include, “Website,” “Social Media,” “A friend,” and “Other.” This type of question allows you to determine categories so that you can easily identify trends or patterns. 

Ordinal questions

Surveys that use ordinal questions or statements will often ask users to select from the same set of responses throughout the survey. For example, the survey might state “We responded in a timely fashion,” and “We answered all of your questions,” and the possible selections would range between “Strong disagree,” “Disagree,” “Neutral,” “Agree,” and “Strongly Agree.” These types of questions can be good for identifying attitudes and perceptions. 

Interval questions

Organizations that want to offer numeric data to support survey findings can use interval questions for a mathematical approach. For example, “How would you rate your experience with our support team?” might be accompanied by a numeric scale, labeled from 1 to 10, with “Not at all helpful” assigned to the 1 value, and “Extremely helpful” assigned to the 10 value. While assigning a numeric value to opinion-based questions can be tricky, determining a mean, median, and mode for each data set can be helpful for grant applications or annual reports.  

Open-ended questions

If you are less interested in identifying trends and patterns, and more interested in individual experiences, opinions, or suggestions, consider using a survey with open-ended questions that provide blank text boxes. For example, an open-ended question might ask, “What topics would you like to see us cover in the future?” 

Users can then offer their own individual responses, with as much or as little depth as they want to provide. This type of survey is more labor-intensive for both the survey-takers and the survey-reviewers, but it can also offer the most substantive information, depending on the kind of feedback you are seeking. 

How to phrase questions

Once you have established what you want to know and the kinds of questions that will help you gather the best data, it will be important to phrase your questions to generate the most useful feedback. No matter what kind of format you use, asking questions that allow for responses beyond “yes” and “no” will give you more data to work with. Even if you are using a numeric scale, or providing a set of possible answers for users to select from, you will get a more accurate understanding of users’ opinions with smart questions. 

Beginning your questions with “How,” “Why,” and “What” will often generate the best answers. Be sure that your answers allow for a range of responses—including negative responses. Critique can be valuable for helping you make needed changes or improvements. Asking leading questions—such as, “Why do you prefer our organization over others?”—may repel survey-takers. 

Best practices for getting responses

Getting people to respond to surveys is challenging, even if you offer incentives. In general, surveys that go out to subscribers, readers, or customers will generate a 10-15% response rate. Internal surveys circulated among staff members or other stakeholders will generate a 30-40% response rate. 

However, to guarantee these rates of return, it will be important to keep your survey as short as possible. No one wants to take a thirty-minute survey. If you can keep your survey under 10 questions, with questions that are short and clear, you will have a much better return rate. 

Designing your survey

This is the fun part! Once you have decided what you want to know and how you want to ask, it’s time to create your survey. If you’re using Submittable, utilize Form Builder Features to select the most appropriate fields. For categorical, ordinal, and interval questions, select from checkboxes, checkbox lists, radio lists, or drop-down lists. Use auto-labels to filter and report based on response type. 


For open-ended questions, use the open text field option. Open text fields can also be used if you want a specific response to an “other” option in surveys that otherwise do not use open-ended questions. Form logic is a great option for adding an “other” option after another question type. Using submission management software for surveys will also allow you to set a word limit in text fields, as appropriate. 

Note that if you are using Submittable’s additional forms you can attach a survey to an application form if you want to collect data from applicants or submitters who have already submitted. This will allow you to keep survey results organized within the original submission, if that connection makes sense for your workflow.

Analyzing your survey results

Before you begin looking at numbers and patterns, remind yourself of the survey’s goal. What do you hope the answers will help you do or understand? When you have reoriented yourself, look first at the raw data. This will give you a rough idea of how many people responded to one particular answer over another. In Submittable, reporting features like Advanced Reporting and Dashboards can help guide measurement and data assessment. 

Keep in mind that raw numbers cannot give you the insight you are looking for. Once you’ve looked at numbers, you need to decide what measures will give you the most helpful information. Do you want to compare a subset of survey respondents to all survey respondents? Or do you want to compare survey respondents to all of your organization’s customers? 

Choosing the right measurement is essential for making sense of your responses and putting them to good use. 

Putting it all together 

Collecting data can be a good way to keep your organization on track—whether it’s to help you broaden engagement, make internal improvements, or report findings to your board. Using submission management software for surveys conducted regularly can also help you track trends in feedback over time. For small organizations, or for businesses that have to reduce their expenses, adding survey software to the annual budget can be tough. Submission software like Submittable can do it all and relieve those extra expenses.  

Interested in using submission management software for surveys? Find out more about how Submittable can serve your organization here

Emily Withnall

Emily Withnall is a freelance writer and editor. She also teaches poetry in public schools in the Missoula area as well as at the Missoula County Detention Center. Some of her work is available at emilywithnall.com.