Are Anonymous Surveys Necessary?



March 26, 2024

Maryfrances Porter

One of the things people ask me about most often is whether or not surveys need to be anonymous in order to get valid data. In fact, I was just talking about this with my friends at the Jefferson Area Board on Aging! This idea is based in the scientific method and isn’t necessarily useful in real-life service provision.

Let’s talk about the different levels of being anonymous and the pros and cons.

Totally Anonymous

A totally anonymous survey would be one where there would be absolutely no contact between the service provider and the client. To be totally anonymous, there would also be absolutely no way to link the survey responses back to the client.

It might be true that clients respond more honestly (although I’m not convinced of that). It is also true that clients are WAY less likely to mail a survey back, there’s no way of following up, and the client might not feel engaged in answering the survey.

PROS: maybe more honesty
CONS: you get way less data


Somewhat Anonymous

I typically encourage folks to give surveys in person and to wait while the client completes the survey. And, typically, there’s no need for the client to put their name on the survey.

In this situation, service provides use their relationship with the client to encourage honest answers.

When surveys are given this way, you can get 90%+ response rates and helpful feedback. 

The service provider giving the survey doesn’t need to look at the answers. If it’s a paper survey, they can have the client seal the survey in an envelope and assure them they will just give it to the data entry person without looking at it.

PROS: probably honesty, a lot of data
CONS: some people may hold back opinions


Names on Surveys

Sometimes you really do need clients’ names on the surveys. Maybe you need to be able to follow up with them. Maybe you are asking them about needs or interests and plan to use that data to tailor services.

This is OK. In my experience, the longer a client works with a service provider, the more honest they are. Just like in any relationship, folks often hold back until they know it’s safe.

PROS: you can link data back to clients to tailor service provision
CONS: it might take a while for people to feel comfortable answering fully honestly


Letting People Know How You Use Data

Regardless of how you collect the survey data, you’ll build trust and credibility with your clients if you let them know how you’ve used the data.

Let them know you’ve listened by telling them what you heard and how you changed.

Example: 75% of clients said they weren’t learning as much as they wanted. To help you learn more, we have created smaller classes!


Let them know their responses are helping you raise money.

Example: Your feedback has helped us improve our programs and raise more than $200,000 to keep the programs going. Thank you!


Now you know, you don’t have to bend over backwards to have your surveys be completely anonymous. Spend that time build relationships and letting folks know how valuable their voices are.

– Maryfrances

Your ImpactStory™ Coach

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– Maryfrances

Your ImpactStory™ Coach

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By Published On: March 25th, 2024Categories: Blog - Smart SurveysComments Off on Are Anonymous Surveys Necessary?