August 21, 2019
By Cvent Guest

You've heard it all before: Fill out our survey and receive a gift card. Tell us about your experience and be entered to win a free iPad. Rate our product and we’ll send you a free T-shirt. The concept is simple and widely used by organizations looking to increase their survey response rates. They incentivize survey participation by enticing respondents with rewards.

This survey quid pro quo sounds easy enough, right?

Well, sort of. While survey incentives have been found to increase response rates, you still ha

  1. Don’t use incentives for all survey types – Unless you have an inexhaustible reserve of cash, you can’t rain down incentives on respondents for every single survey you conduct. If your survey is going to employees or a particularly loyal group of customers, there’s a good chance responses will roll in without the promise of rewards. Save incentives for longer surveys where the likelihood of survey fatigue is high.
  2. Offer incentives that appeal to your entire sample – Incentives should strengthen the quality of your survey data, not diminish it. However, if you select an incentive that only appeals to a select group of your target sample, you will create an incentive bias. Steer clear of incentives that are gender, age, ethnicity or profession specific unless you’re trying to solicit responses from that specific target population.
  3. Use monetary incentives if you can – Cash is king. A study by the Survey Research Center and the University of Michigan found that monetary incentives such as cash, checks, gift cards, coupons and discounts generate higher response rates than non-monetary incentives like t-shirts, USBs, charity donations, and electronic devices. Monetary incentives also have the added benefit of being universally appealing.
  4. Promise only what you can deliver – A sure-fire way to anger your respondents is to promise a prize or reward and then be unable to afford it. If 100% of respondents participated—we know, it’s rare—would you be able to square away your incentives without taking a large financial hit? Always overestimate your predicted response rates when budgeting for incentives.
  5. Limit lottery-style incentives – Not surprisingly, research has shown that surveys that offer lottery-style incentives only marginally raise response rates. When you tell respondents that their participation will only guarantee their names will be submitted into a lottery, they usually opt to forgo the hassle of filling out the survey since odds are they will walk away empty handed. If you do decide to use a lottery, make sure the prize is enticing enough to outweigh outsized odds.
  6. Get creative – Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t offer incentives. Get creative by looking into lower cost options like your own product discounts, coffee gift cards, RedBox rentals, and donations to charities.
  7. Test, test, test – How can you really tell if dangling the proverbial carrot in front of respondents has an effect on response rates? Test it out. Test whether your incentive works better than using no incentive, and test out different incentives.

Have you had any success or failures using incentives? We want to hear about it. Let us know in the comments below. For more survey best practices, check out Design Crimes: How to Fix 12 Common Survey Mistakes.

Written by Alli Whalen

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