The Value of Conducing a Member Survey—The Legal Way
Beth Gigante Klingenstein
MTNA Business Digest, Volume 2, Issue 4
As independent music teachers and directors of independent music schools, we constantly seek information on the most up-to-date business trends in our profession. Articles, blogs, presentations and webinars all help, but another way to find the latest and greatest information is to conduct a survey of our peers. When planning a member survey, be aware of the following do’s and don’ts to help you gather relevant data, observe best practices and abide by legal requirements.
Surveys can help answer questions such as “What are the trends for charging tuition in my area? What studio management apps are in use? What systems can I use for receiving payments?” When addressing questions, most surveys don’t center on opinions; they offer hard core data that allows us to better understand our professional options.
There are numerous areas that could be explored in a survey, and the 2020 MTNA Member Survey can offer good options when planning a local or state survey.
Some “Don’ts”—A Few Things to Avoid
- Never conduct a survey with the intention of suggesting a plan of action based on the results. For example, it is illegal to survey rates and then state, “Based on this data, all teachers should raise their rates by 10%” or “All teachers should be charging at least xyz an hour.” Such recommendations would be seen as price-fixing and are illegal.
- Similarly, do not make recommendations for policies based on the survey results, such as “Based on the survey results, it is recommended that teachers offer no more than two make-ups a year.” Surveys are meant to gather and offer data, and it is then up to each individual to decide what to do with that data.
- Avoid ambiguous, biased, or leading questions that will skew results. An example might be offering only these two options regarding make-up lessons (limited choices and leading questions):
- Do you feel it is best to:
- have a firm policy that offers 0–2 make-ups a semester?
- allow students to demand as many make-ups as they would like, for any and all reasons?
Some “Do’s” When Conducting a Survey
- Give advance notice that the survey will be coming soon along with information on its value. Prepare people to want to complete it!
- Provide an estimate of how long it will take the average person to complete the survey. If possible, provide an option to “save and return later.”
- Offer it in a format that is easily available to the full group invited to participate such as an easily accessible online link and/or a downloadable form.
- Ask questions based on the prior year’s information (example: How much did you charge per hour last year?). By so doing, you are collecting historical data, much like the Department of Labor does in its site for Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. Historical data can always be collected and shared without violating anti-trust laws.
- Decide on the question format. Although the majority of survey questions are multiple choice, offering a few open-ended questions can provide insightful and workable solutions to professional challenges.
- Include questions about the geographic area being surveyed, especially when surveys reach multiple communities. A local association may reflect a specific demographic, but on the state or national level, that is trickier. Since income can easily be impacted by geography, when surveying larger geographic areas, include questions about community size that reflect urban/rural/size of population and then factor that information into the final data offered.
- Ask questions in the most objective way possible, with no judgement being reflected in the question.
- Ensure confidentiality; collect data anonymously, in compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines.
- Offer the option to answer sensitive questions with “prefer not to answer.”
- work.chron.com offers a few helpful suggestions about the set-up of the survey:
- Start with the most important questions first.
- End with the most sensitive questions (including race and gender).
- Ask for an exact salary or a salary range.
- Be sure you can cross reference issues like how education or how geography impacts salary when tabulating results.
- Use a program “that will let you sort, add, create percentages and cross-reference. Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets might be all you need. Analyze your data beyond just getting the average salary of respondents. Try to find out how age, education, gender, title, years of experience and other factors affect salaries.” (In our case, salary variations might also reflect services offered.)
Possible Topics to Include in a Survey of Members of Local or State Associations (all based on information from the previous year):
- Rates (based on a single unit of measure, such as an hourly fee)
- Method for billing (weekly, monthly, semester, etc.)
- System for receiving payments (app, bank autopay, accounting program, etc.)
- Marketing strategies (website, social media, word of mouth, referrals, etc.)
- Annual income, both gross and net; (gross is what is earned before any taxes, benefits or deductions are taken out; net is what is left after all withholdings have been accounted for)
- Sources for summer income (summer camps, set summer term, 12-month payment plan, etc.)
- Use of book/activity deposit
- Number of students
- Length of lessons offered
- Types of lessons offered (private, group, online, etc.)
- Hours per week spent teaching
- Hours per week spent on additional duties (bookkeeping, practicing, lesson plans, professional development, etc.)
- Make-up policy options (no make-up lessons given for any reason; make-up lessons allowed with 24 hours-notice; make-up lessons allowed for only x and y reasons; a maximum of one make-up lesson allowed each semester, lessons will be made up at the end of each semester in a group class, etc.)
- Use of swap list or students’ ability to swap lessons on an app or online program
- Use of technology (equipment, apps for studio management, student learning, scheduling, etc.)
- Percent of lessons taught online
- Services offered (theory classes, composition, recitals, chamber music, group lessons, performance classes, access to competitions, summer camps, recitals, etc.)
- Population of community
- Educational background
- Years of experience
There are numerous additional topics that could be addressed in a survey, based on the data that is sought.
The best surveys are those that use a random sample. When we survey MTNA members, we are not creating a true random sample, since our results won’t include teachers who are not affiliated with MTNA. This skews results; we won’t be able to say definitively, “The average independent music teachers charged xyz per hour last year,” as we are not randomly sampling all teachers, only members of MTNA. Nonetheless, a survey of our MTNA local, state or national association offers valuable data about the professional practices of our MTNA peers.
A best practice when gathering data is to repeat the survey every two to three years. Repeat surveys can document unanticipated changes over time. As teachers receive survey results, they are exposed to previously unknown or unexplored options. Learning of these options may encourage new choices that better serve a teacher’s needs. For example, a teacher may discover that last year, her rates were far lower than the average in her area and that most teachers were using a certain studio management app for bookkeeping. This knowledge could encourage choices/changes that will then be reflected in future surveys. Inspiring change and documenting voluntary transformation over time is one of the most valuable rewards of conducting member surveys.
Department of Labor: Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics
Economic Research Institute: ERI Distance Learning Center. Online Compensation Textbook; Chapter 8: Compensation and Benefits Surveys
Klingenstein, B. G. (2005–2006). The Value of Music Teacher Surveys. American Music Teacher,
MTNA 2005 Member Survey
MTNA 2020 Member Survey
work.chron.com: How to Conduct a Salary Survey
Beth Gigante Klingenstein, NCTM, is a nationally renowned author and presenter. Recently retired from a career dedicated to teaching and arts administration, she continues to embrace her life-long interest in the business side of teaching.