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How to Offer Survey Incentives Without Sacrificing Good Data

How to Offer Survey Incentives Without Sacrificing Good Data

incentives_pros_consEven if you have the perfect survey, ultimately the success of your survey is in the hands of your potential respondents.

But don’t worry—you aren’t completely reliant upon their will. There’s something you can do to encourage respondents to complete your survey:

Offer a survey incentive!

First off, what’s an incentive? An incentive is money or possibly a gift you provide to the respondent in exchange for completing your survey. Incentives come in many different forms and are a great way to increase response rates and thank respondents for their time.

While this sounds like a win-win situation, you’ve got to be careful that you aren’t capturing the wrong population or group of respondents because of the incentive you’re offering.

In this post, we’ll go over survey incentive best practices, including incentivizing pros and cons, the types of survey incentives you can offer, and when you would (and wouldn’t) use a survey incentive.

Types of survey incentives

Incentives typically come in two main forms: monetary and non-monetary. Monetary incentives include cash, checks, money orders, gift cards, and coupons. Non-monetary incentives are typically thank you gifts like a free pen or notebook, but can also be things like a brochure or even a charity donation, which is the incentive that we use for our SurveyMonkey Contribute panelists.

When it comes to increasing response rates, previous research has shown that cash is king, boosting survey response rates the most. And non-monetary incentives like a thank-you gift aren’t as effective as monetary incentives when it comes to increasing response rates.

As you might expect, the more money or the nicer the thank-you gift you offer, the higher the response rate. But there’s a point at which increasing the incentive value doesn’t really help out response rates very much.

If you decide to go with a non-monetary incentive, make sure that the incentive has universal appeal to your target population. For example, if you’re a grocery store owner, don’t offer free diapers for a customer feedback survey—otherwise you might get only new moms to respond. Instead, you might want to think about giving out coupons for 20% off the next purchase, since most respondents could have a use for them.

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What’s the best survey incentive value?

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect amount or value for a survey incentive. But there are three things that you can keep in mind in order to help you determine what type (and the value) of any survey incentive you’re offering:

  1. Your budget: If your budget is capped at say $200 for your survey project, you’ll be limited to offering a pretty small incentive to each respondent or possibly using a sweepstakes option (more on this below).
  2. Your target population for your survey: Let’s say you’ve decided to go with a monetary incentive of cash and your target population is doctors for a healthcare survey. You’ll want to go with a high-value incentive since doctors are often very busy, so the amount has to be high enough to make it worth their time to respond. It isn’t unheard of to offer $100 cash to a doctor as an incentive to complete the survey, but you probably don’t want to offer that same amount to a student.
  3. How you will provide the incentive: Once you’ve determined what kind of incentive to provide, you’ll have to decide whether you want to provide it to your target population before they even complete the survey (prepaid) or only provide it to your respondents after they’ve completed the survey (promised).

Prepaid incentives are the most effective in increasing response rates, but this method is generally difficult to execute for online surveys. They also tend to be more costly since you provide the incentive to everyone, regardless of whether or not they respond. Promised incentives are much easier to execute, since you can email someone a gift certificate afterwards or mail them a small Thank You gift.

If you decide to go with a promised incentive, you’ll have to make another decision: whether to do a sweepstakes, raffle, or lottery—and whether you’re awarding the incentive to a small group of people or to everyone who responds.

When it comes to online surveys, individual promised incentives have been shown to increase response rates to surveys since everyone who completes the survey is rewarded for their time. However, the jury is still out on the impact of sweepstakes.

With promised incentives, you may need to collect personal information like email or mailing addresses. Make sure you take the proper precautions of protecting your respondents’ information—and also let them know that their responses won’t be linked back to their personal information. Otherwise, you may not get them to respond to questions of sensitive nature that they don’t want tracked back to them.

When to use survey incentives

While incentives have demonstrated that they can help with response rates, it’s important to keep in mind that a high response rate doesn’t mean that a survey is free of bias. You could have a group of respondents that look nothing like your target population or because a biasing incentive type was offered, those surveyed could look vastly different from those who did not respond.

Also, another thing to keep in mind is that your survey may not even need an incentive, particularly for customer satisfaction surveys. Offering incentives may harm the quality of feedback you get.

Respondents may be more likely to provide positive feedback if they were provided a prepaid incentive, or may be only providing feedback just to get the incentive. In situations like these, you might want to think about skipping survey incentives and use those funds for a survey instead.

A situation where you might want to use an incentive is when you are trying to target a rare population or trying to survey a group of people that are less likely to respond, also called non-responders.

When it comes to non-responders, if you’ve already sent out your survey but need more responses (for example, in a marketing survey) you could think about contacting the non-responders again and offering an extra incentive to those who haven’t responded so you don’t bias your sample.

Have no idea where to start? Think about testing different incentive structures with a small group of respondents before you launch your survey to everyone. This may give you an idea on whether your incentive is effective and also whether your incentive is providing you the best, unbiased sample of respondents possible.

Do you offer survey incentives? Which work best for you? Have questions for our Survey Pro? Give us a shout in the Comments below!

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  • Hajir

    i want survey based monitoring and evaluation of vocational training center,any idea,contribution to that are highly appreciated from experienced people and expertise thanks all.

  • Kate OneWorld

    Just a note on ‘Types on Survey Incentives’ – your example suggested to offer the customer a 20% discount on further purchases as an appropriate reward. This may inadvertently offer a bias in itself; those customers that have had a negative experience are not motivated to complete the survey, as the reward is based around a company that they may not be willing to make further purchases with. Thus, you may not be receiving accurate information from respondents who have had a truly unpleasant experience, and do not wish to deal with the company further.

    I have found that it is preferable to offer a completely impartial reward in this type of scenario (ie. Win an iPad), as the reward does not affect who responds to your survey. If you inadvertently remove the customers that have had the worst experience with you, you are unable to improve your service areas that require the most attention.

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Great point, Kate! This is definitely something to consider. The product, situation and conditions around your survey will certainly play into what type of incentive you offer. In this case, this type of incentive sounds completely appropriate! Thanks for sharing this thought.

  • RG

    so how do we add this option to our survey?

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi there,

      You would be responsible for adding your own incentive. You can offer it and collect the respondents information so that you can deliver the incentive to them. Here is more information on this:

      Hope that helps out!

      • Brandon


        I read the link you suggested for more information and I’m not sure why it suggests making 2 surveys, 1 for the research questions and 1 for the prize. Can’t the data for the prize be collected within the research survey?

        • KTsurveymonkey

          It can, Brandon. In some cases, however, people choose to create two survey designs in order to eliminate bias. In other words, if a customer leaves their information, it will show with their responses. In order for fairness, some folks choose to link to a separate survey so they cannot see who the responses belong to!

  • I often have to survey teachers and school administrators who are extremely busy and tend to be overly surveyed. I try to be conservative in the number of times I survey them, but sometimes it’s necessary. We are also restricted by regulations on what is allowed (school supplies are ok but money or gift cards are not). What are the most effective incentives for this population?

  • FujiS2500HD

    Longtime survey taker here.

    Any issues with target populations can be solved with a pre-survey demog check – yes, a few will guess their way past this, but it will screen out the vast majority of the non-target population. This is old news; surveys have been doing this for YEARS.

    #1 tip for incentives: make them worth our time. I’m not completing a 30-minute survey that pays out 50 cents. In fact, a good metric to go by is $4.50-$5 an hour – the typical after-tax min. wage around here. Anything less than that and smart respondents will use their time elsewhere. If you’re offering a coupon/gift card, it better be good.

    #2 If you think you’re gonna be clever and not list the estimated completion time, response rates will drop. People want to know if they’re diving into a 3 or 30-minute survey.

    #3: Incentives and quality of responses are directly related. I will breeze through your ten-minute 75-cent survey and not really care about what I put – but I will provide careful, detailed responses for $7.50.

    Sweepstakes are for people who can’t calculate probability properly – scrape a decent budget together and pay people for their time.

  • Kristin

    Hi, Any tips for how to offer a reward on an anonymous survey? How can we reward the winner without compromising anonymity? Any suggestions appreciated!

    • Anna Kebets

      Well, this may a be a little bit late, but I hope it can help someone else. If you have an anonymous survey but have to collect some personal information to deliver incentives you can consider actually creating 2 surveys. I did it not on Survey Monkey, but I’m sure it’s also possible here: make your survey and in the termination block indicate that the respondent should be redirected to another URL (you 2nd survey). Thus you will collect the data but it won’t be associated with the answers given to your main survey.
      The tricky thing here is to protect your second survey from being passed around. I did it by 1) restriction on participation in the survey twice (it’s more for the same person who wants to inscribe several times to increase chances to win and it can be overcame by cleaning cash or just using another browser, but still it gives some protection) 2) the second survey is available only for those who came from the URL I indicated (which is the one where your survey is). So the participant can’t just send the link to your second survey via whatever to his friends!
      Hope it can help someone.

      • MFsurveymonkey

        Hi Anna! Those are great suggestions, thanks for your comments! It’s true that you can create 2 surveys and include a hyperlink on the 1st one, and at the end redirect them to the 2nd survey:

        Another option would be to edit the Survey End Page collector option to redirect respondents to your own website or URL when they complete your 2nd survey, or claim the reward.

        Just please note that after you collect all your responses, you’d need to select a winner manually, as we wouldn’t have an automatic way of doing this.

        I hope this information also helps!

        • David Smith

          How can we ensure that the second survey is reached only from the original survey URL?

          >> 2) the second survey is available only for those who came from the URL I indicated (which is the one where your survey is)

  • baddabingtim

    How do I offer a cash incentive to an anonymous participant – in other words how do they collect the cash – and stay anonymous – is there some way to automate giving out cash (paypal) ?

  • baddabingtim

    How do a setup a gift card reward – say for $5 – I understand I need another survey – since mine ins anonymous – but how does one go about setting this up – using some type of payment service

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