High Tech On The Cheap – Monkeying Around

Monkey.jpgFollowing on the heels of the first article in this series designed to examine software products that can help small budget organizations do much more with much less is SurveyMonkey, a hosted enterprise application that describes itself as having “a single purpose: to enable anyone to create professional online surveys quickly and easily.”…

SurveyMonkey comes in two varieties, free and a paid, $19.95/month subscription. Happily, the free version isn’t a useless, watered down edition of the paid service designed to force you into purchasing a subscription.

In addition to allowing users the ability to design professional level surveys, they can also create and maintain mailing lists. However, I don’t feel comfortable giving over my mailing lists to a third party organization regardless of how secure or hands-off they claim to be. Fortunately, SurveyMonkey doesn’t lock you into that option as they make it easy to distribute surveys and collect data with three link-driven solutions (create a link for an email message, create a link for a web page, and send a link to your email list) as well as two popup driven solutions you host on your own website (create an invitation popup and create a survey popup).

Even if you’ve never used a hosted enterprise solution before, SurveyMonkey makes the process simple by including easy-to-follow prompts and a wealth of resource material. In case that’s not enough, detailed guided animated tutorials (all with audio guides) are available to help you create, filter, and export surveys.

Even though the entire package is hosted online at the SurveyMonkey server, you can still download survey results to an office computer for safekeeping and use while offline.

In order to find out if SurveyMonkey measures up to what it promises, I created a free account to design the survey I distribute to orchestra managers for the 2006 Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review. All in all, it took me less than 30 minutes to create an account, design a survey, make some necessary tweaks, create an email link, and finalize it for distribution. All that’s left is to send the direct link out to the orchestra managers via my own email client.

The free version allowed me to create a survey with 10 questions per page, which was perfect as the entire survey only consisted of 10 questions, however, a paid subscription account allows unlimited numbers of questions. One of the aspects I found most useful is SurveyMoneky didn’t place any restrictions on free accounts with regard to using any of the 16 types of questions they offer. I was especially glad to see that an open-ended essay questions was available, when looking at other hosted survey applications I didn’t find any other offering which allowed free accounts to use essay questions.

Another powerful feature for free accounts is the ability to limit the number of respondents, restrict access to surveys via passwords, and even grant/deny access based on IP addresses. Although I didn’t require these features, I could easily think of future applications for these features.

I only ran into one snag with the program and that occurred when I attempted to enter a cutoff date and “survey closed” message for respondents. But after going back to that spot the next day, it worked fine and allowed me to save the proper information. I do wish SurveyMonkey would allow free accounts to mandate “required” questions, a feature allowed to pay subscribers, but given the flexibility and quality of the remaining offerings, that’s a minor complaint.

SurveyMonkey is a very useful hosted enterprise application for a variety of orchestral organizations, small and big budget alike. For the former, SurveyMonkey can mean the difference between operating blind and deaf and allowing your organization to evolve based on relevant input from your patrons. For the latter, imagine how nice it would be to create an internal departmental survey about something necessary, but benign, without having to go to your IT manager for assistance.

In the end, SurveyMonkey is definitely a software application worth consideration. It’s a flexible, intuitive, easy-to-use, application that I highly recommend.


About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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