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Scrapbook: Surveying the Scene in Montana

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

February 15, 2012

Surveying the Scene in Montana

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By Owen Weber, Montana Chapter Secretary

The Montana Chapter conducted a survey of its membership last year that turned out to be a very successul project and a learning experience. It was our intent to create a survey that would help the chapter identity issues important to members and create a list of potential volunteer leaders that the chapter could develop in its effort to build leadership across the state. We developed the survey using surveys done by other chapters. The survey comprised 21 questions with some multiple choice, some rated, some yes-and-no questions, and some short answer ones.

We gave members a month to respond. We extended the deadline two weeks after getting a lot of responses. All data were compiled into a database and we contacted respondents who offered their contact information.

The response rate was incredible. The Chapter mailed a survey out to every member (1,998) and we received 110 responses -- a 5.5 percent response rate on a lengthy survey where members had to fold the survey, seal it, attach their own postage, and mail it back. So far with the data compiled, the chapter has been able to hold a house party based on responses. We have added folks to committees and we are trying to help others in remote areas develop strategies for outreach.

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One major factor for our success was following up with phone calls with respondents who provided a phone number. But there were challenges with following up with members who were on the fence about actually wanting to volunteer. A national staffer and myself developed a chapter summary of what the chapter had been up to as well as where the chapter wanted to go. During calls we also focused on what the respondents had said they were interested in. Using the summary as well as their interest, we would tell the respondent about openings for volunteer leaders within their desired areas and ask what they would be willing to commit to.

Developing a plan for following up is critical for success. Make sure you know what you are going to ask your respondents and be willing to meet folks face-to-face. Be sure to thank them for their time for completing the survey. And don't be deterred if folks can't volunteer even when they said they could on the survey, Ask them what they can do now and when they can participate at a later time.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience.

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