Data Collection Made Easier with Google Forms and Spreadsheets

Website & Technology February 08, 2008

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

The more you know about your members, the better your organization can serve them. As we've mentioned, a variety of free tools for online polls are available to  answer the simple questions -- but sometimes you need more detailed information from your members. Would you like to be able to track each individual's response, instead of seeing only the simple percentages for each answer choice? That could certainly be very useful. And what if you also had an easy way to collect those responses in a spreadsheet?

A new feature in Google's suite of online services, Google Forms, just made it a whole lot easier to gather information from your members by email.

Create a form and invite people to fill it out. They can respond on the web or directly from email -- there's no need for them to sign in. Automatically, their answers will be saved for you in a spreadsheet at Google Docs. That spreadsheet then can be edited, saved, shared, or exported into your own local database system for future management.

Here's a more detailed look at how to use Google Forms:

1. Login at Google

Go to

If you're not already logged in to your Google account, you'll be asked to do so. If you don't have a Google account, the registration process is fast and simple.

2. Create a New Form

Choose a Form Title and, if you like, add a text paragraph explaining the form to the people you'll be inviting to respond, if you want.

Next, one by one, create your questions.

The text you enter for each Question Title will become a column header -- a merge/sort field -- in the final spreadsheet of responses. Give some thought to your existing membership database, and how you might plan ahead to integrate the data you are collecting now with the information you already have. In other words, choose your form questions with the future database in mind.

For each question, choose the Question Type that best suits your needs:

  • Text for a single line of text to be typed in
  • Paragraph text for longer, more detailed text answers
  • Multiple choice -- only one response can be selected
  • Check boxes -- more than one response can be selected
  • Choose from a list for a drop-down list of choices

If you change your mind about the order of the questions, there's no need to start over -- arrows to the left of each question will let you move it up or down the list. There will be ample opportunities to preview and edit the form, until you're sure your questionnaire is set up the way just you want it. You can even come back to edit the form another day, if you need extra time to finish up.

3. Select the Recipients

Ready to send it out? Enter the email addresses of people you'd like to invite to fill out your form. You can quickly choose names from your GMail Contacts list, or paste in a comma-separated list of email addresses from your own mailing list database. Anyone who has an email address may be invited to "share" the form you've created.

Choose your Preferences for delivery, privacy, and a customized message to let people know when they have successfully submitted a completed form.

4. Share Your Form by Email

Send out the emails, and wait for the responses to roll in!

Suppose you’re planning a group banquet and want to get your members' feedback on their menu preferences and any dietary concerns. If you were using Google Forms to gather that information, the form that your members receive by email might contain a form that looks something like this, in part:


The recipients can fill out and submit the form directly from email, or they can click through to an automatically generated web page and complete the form online.

5. You've got a new Spreadsheet!

The result is a standard spreadsheet in Google Docs that you can choose to sort, edit, print, share with others, or export in CSV, XLS, ODS, TXT, HTML or PDF format.


But wait, there's more! 

google-forms-gadget.jpg Adding the optional Google Forms gadget to your personalized iGoogle homepage will help you to keep track of your active forms, and to know when a new response has been submitted.

While not quite as efficient as a fully integrated membership management system such as WildApricot, this new feature at Google is a useful tool for introducing a bit of automation to anyone just starting to move online.

Surveys and opinion polls, event registrations, mailing list updates, setting schedules with your volunteers -- how could Google Forms make information management easier for you?

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • good things from google for nonprofits « small dots:
  • Jake:

    Here's a suggestion: The admin who creates the form should have the option to allow users to go back and edit existing data (either data that they submitted or ANY data that's been submitted).

  • thewebpromoter:

    Great and informative blog for online data collection. And guys, there is another site where you can do data collection or if you want to share anything about your stuffs.  Visit

  • Jeffrey Austin White:

    Even better Swink has developed an online data collection system that does not require experience and is free for personal use. The product is called Caboodle. I use it to keep track of my research projects. This is an excellent solution for students and researchers to launch multi-site studies or as a substitute for Microsoft Access and Excel.

  • WildApricot Blog:

    In the first part of this article, we talked about various ways to show data in tables on your website or blog -- their strengths and their limitations. Here, we'll take a closer look at how to use Zoho Sheet, Google Spreadsheets, or DabbleDB to create

  • WildApricot Blog:

    Are the people who are visiting your website really the audience that you're trying to target? The more

  • Data Collection Software:

    hi, on the google forms you mention above for electronic data collection, do you know whether any product branding can be added and to what extent the layout of the forms can be modified? thanks

  • WildApricot Blog:

    NTEN is offering a chance to win a free registration for the Online Nonprofit Technology Conference this month. It's not only a great chance for some lucky non-profit folks to get free professional development, but there's a quick lesson in online marketing


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