5 Key Features You Need in Online Forms

Posted at June 20, 2011

Forms on Websites. Does it get any more boring?

Before you touch that remote, stop and consider how much of your everyday online existence involves forms. Logins, profile pages, surveys, evites, typing status updates, sending e-greetings, getting directions to a friend’s house, paying bills, etc. Some of the most “interactive” things we do every day begin as a form!

As you search for the right solution to power your church website, it’s critical that you find one that includes feedback forms. In a church setting, you’ll be using forms to collect everything from member surveys, leadership applications, event registrations, and volunteer signups. Before you simply gloss over a Website company who says, “yep, we do forms,” (or, “hey! we just added forms!”) take a moment and drill a bit deeper.

Here are at least 5 important things you must have in any successful forms solution for a church:

1. Flexible question types.
In various ways you might use a form, you’ll encounter times when you need people to type in their answer, select multiple options, or choose just one.  There are HTML tools for each of these, and your tool must support them all.  The most common are single-line input, multi-line input, checkbox, radio button, and drop-down list. 

Some form solutions also provide “canned” question types for the most common things like state picker, address block, yes/no question, etc.  These can save you time so that you aren’t creating them from scratch each time.

2. Follow-up questions.
Basic forms will allow you to ask questions and get answers. More full-featured forms, however, will give you the ability to ask the second question.  For example, if you’re running a VBS camp and you create a form for volunteer signups, you might ask, “do you need a t-shirt?” If the answer is yes, then you would ask “what size shirt do you wear?” Another example might be the concert attendee who answers yes to the “do you have any special needs?” question, in which case you’d want to give them a chance to explain their answer.

Each of these examples can be easily handled through the use of a follow-up question, which only presents itself under certain conditions. This creates a cleaner form on the screen, and helps to guide the user so that only the required information is gathered. Everybody saves time in the process.

3. Send form responses to multiple Email addresses, configured separately for each form.
Steer clear of a form solution that only lets you send responses to a single Email address; or worse, a form solution that only has one administrator Email address for the entire Website, meaning that ALL form responses go to a single person.

Instead, you are looking for a tool that lets you enter multiple Email alert addresses per form.  Thus, your annual survey responses might go to someone in the clergy, while parking team volunteer applications go to the volunteer coordinator and the parking captain.

4. Store responses in a database, with reporting and exporting capabilities.
As great as it is to get form responses via Email, they often aren’t too useful. For example if you are running a large fall retreat, and you need to compile a spreadsheet of attendees and meal/roommate preferences, manually copying/pasting stuff out of Email alerts isn’t workable. And by the way, what if some of the Emails don’t get sent properly, your mailbox goes down, or inadvertently deleted?

The solution is a forms solution that saves everything in a database for you. This is great not just for the added layer of protection, but also because you can export your form responses into a ready-made spreadsheet. Imagine how much easier it would be to mail merge, or to print nametags with this type of tool!

5. Ability to collect payment if needed.
You don’t always need this, but if you are running an event, retreat, concert, class, or any other type of activity with signups or products, you may need to collect funds.  Look for a forms solution that can connect to a merchant gateway (Authorize.Net, PayPal Payflow, Cybersource, etc.). This, combined with other secure features, will allow your respondents to enter a credit/debit card online and pay for everything immediately.

There are many other whistles and bells you might find, such as password protection, spam filtering (CAPTCHA), file submissions, tagging, Facebook integration, etc.

Form tools to consider

If you’re using SiteOrganic, then you have pretty much everything we described above. If you’re not using SiteOrganic, then there are a few other add-on options that can get you close. Many of these are free, while some may carry a fee for “pro” or advanced features. 

If you have any other great forms options to share, please let us know in the comments!

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