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The ultimate guide to survey incentives

Traditionally, incentives are given when trying to survey “non-responders”, aka people that don’t answer surveys, such as doctors. I mean,…

Traditionally, incentives are given when trying to survey “non-responders”, aka people that don’t answer surveys, such as doctors. I mean, they’re busy – like really busy – and your survey just doesn’t seem to be worth their while, unless they get something in return. By providing an incentive, you’re giving them a reason to find time in their (very busy) schedule to complete your survey.

Rule of thumb: If people have emotional ties to your product, service, or whatever you’re surveying on, they’ll share their feedback. If not, you’ll likely need an incentive to get the highest response rate.

Survey incentives can increase your response rate but they can also attract the wrong respondents or eat up your budget. There are several factors to consider when choosing an incentive and we’ve listed them for you. Thank us later.

Did you know?

According to a study, respondents who are offered cash incentives are more likely to complete your survey and they feel obligated to take their time to give you their feedback


Always start by look at your budget. It will determine the type of incentive and whether it will be promised or prepaid (more on that later). For example, instead of giving all your respondents two movie tickets, you can make a lottery where only three receive two movie tickets plus popcorn and refreshments.

Who gets your incentive

There are three methods; you can give the incentive to everyone, the first respondents, or do a lottery system.

A lottery system is simple and you’ve probably seen it before. It’s when respondents automatically enter a draw to win something before or after answering the survey. Items could be anything from a gift card to an iPad.


Not all surveys are anonymous but those that are, should remain that way – incentive or not. We recommend you redirect respondents to another survey once they’ve submitted their answers, where they can provide their contact information. This way you can’t link their responses to their personal information.

Your target audience

Remember that you’re offering incentives to increase your response rate, therefore whatever incentive you choose has to resonate with your target audience. You want to offer items that are valuable and easily accessible.

Let’s say that you’re conducting a satisfaction survey for your training courses. To increase the response rate, you decide to give one lucky winner a free spot for the next course. You might risk only encouraging those who enjoyed the course and would really like to participate in the next one, while those who are not interested will not share their opinion with you. Instead, you could provide free technical support, since anyone can benefit from this regardless of his or her attitude towards the course.

It’s vital that you think about the value the incentive generates for your target audience because choosing the wrong incentive might give you a biased group of respondents and thus unusable data or it might not increase your response rate at all.

Types of incentives

Incentives can be broadly divided into two groups: monetary and non-monetary. Monetary incentives are, you guessed it, money and it can come in the form of cash, checks, gift cards, and vouchers. Non-monetary incentives have value but it is not money, such as a T-shirt or notebook, or a charity donation in the respondent’s name.

To help you navigate the world of incentives, here are some ideas:

This is one of the most common and successful types of incentives. Research shows that cold, hard cash boost rates more than other incentives. Keep in mind that cash is not always practical when it comes to online surveys.

Value and worth are different things; different amounts can have the same value to different people. Let’s say your target population is lawyers, the cash amount should be higher than if the audience was students. Why? Because lawyers are busier than students, therefore the amount needs to be high enough to make taking your survey worth their while. Students, on the other hand, can find the same value with a lower amount.

Free sample or discount
While cash yields the best results, free samples and discounts could be enough for your survey. Consider offering a discount on their next purchase or a free sample of a new product.

Donation to a charity
Pick a charity that aligns with your company’s values and gives respondents the chance to donate to it. Just make sure you clearly communicate the amount you’re giving per completed survey. Apart from benefiting others, you’re also creating positive connotations with your brand.

This could be anything, cups, jackets, pens or key chains. Another option is gift cards and vouchers to online stores, e.g. Amazon. Online items are easier to redeem since online shops are not bound to a geographic location. Giveaways give you a chance to send some branded merch with your company’s logo.

Promised vs. prepaid incentives

Research shows that prepaid incentives, which is when you provide the incentive before the survey is completed, are most effective at increasing response rates. However, this method is more expensive and harder to implement for online surveys since you are rewarding everyone before they take the survey. Conversely, promised incentives are easier since you don’t have to reward everyone and those you do reward have completed your survey.

Did you know?

Research shows that prepaid incentives yield higher response rates than promised incentives.

Quality Control

Sharing your survey on social media or any public platform gives you access to more respondents than other methods. But you have to make sure your incentive is going to the right people.

Use disqualifying questions to eliminate respondents who don’t meet your criteria. For example, if your survey seeks to find out attitudes about a podcast, make sure they have listened to it by asking “Have you listened to the Revisionist History podcast?” If they answer no, set up a condition that redirects them to an end page thanking them for their willingness to participate in your survey but unfortunately, they don’t fit the adequate target group. Also, tell them to get on it – it’s brilliant!



 Who gets your incentive


 Target audience

 Prepaid or promised

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Quality control

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