Increase Response Rate

3 Survey Incentives to Explode Your Response Rate

So, your compelling survey is ready. Your questions are set, the forms are designed, and your mailing list is finalized. Then suddenly, it hits you. What if you don’t get enough responses?

Enter “Survey Incentives.”

While mail surveys are proven to deliver the highest response rates in the industry[1]* (save for in-person surveys), the use of incentives has been shown to significantly increase response rates across the board – including those by mail, email, online, telephone, in-app, in-person and multi-modal. In fact, the vast majority of surveys today use them. But which ones work best?

You should consider several factors when choosing your incentive offer, including budget, target audience, and timeliness, as well as ease of fulfillment. That said, survey incentives can be grouped into categories that perform similarly.

Following are the 3 survey incentive types you can use with confidence because they are proven to work, helping mail surveyors reach target response rates of up to 40% or more+:

1: Money for Survey Incentives

Survey Incentives - Money

This should come as little surprise. Who doesn’t like money? Monetary incentives include cash, checks, PayPal credits, money orders, gift cards, coupons, and more. The question is… how much do you offer? Well, there are 2 ways to go about this.

  • a) Pre-incentive Also known as a token incentive, these are sent inside the survey whether the respondent completes it or not. Offering cash up front is an effective strategy for many. As little as a $1 bill inside the survey packet has been shown to significantly increase response, as many respondents feel compelled to give back once they have pocketed the money. According to Don Dillman, Regents Professor in the Department of Sociology at Washington State University and Deputy Director for Research and Development in the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC), “Previous studies have consistently shown that token incentives of a few dollars included with the request for survey participation increases the likelihood that subjects will respond.”[2]And this does not vary statistically by payment method (i.e. cash vs. check). The important consideration here is how each will impact your budget? While it may cost more to print & issue the checks, studies have shown that close to half of the respondents will never cash them! If budget is a concern, the size of your incentive may validate going this route to try and bring the cost down.
  • b) Promised offer This is an offer a respondent will receive after completing the survey. This method is also effective, but naturally, the monetary incentive must be higher since they will have to wait for it. According to Dillman, token incentives have historically yielded higher response rates than promised offers, but research is ongoing. Rewards Cards, in particular, have been shown to increase response rates dramatically, and have become the new standard in promised offers. They do, however, present unique concerns, such as cards expiring and determining who keeps the money from unused balances. DataForce research has shown that promised incentives valued at approximately $10-50 per respondent are most effective, with $20 and $25 denominations most common. Important considerations when choosing a monetary value for promised offers include the length of the survey, the target audience demographics, and your relationship with the participant. No relationship will require a larger incentive than people who know you or your brand. Another strategy with promised offers, if your budget can afford it, would be to combine this approach with the token incentive approach, to encourage even more responses!

To learn more about Reward Cards, read our post on The Truth Behind Gift Card Incentive Offers. 

2: Promotional Item for Survey Incentives

Product and service samples are also a big hit with respondents. In order for them to work, however, you must know your audience. Offer something that speaks to them that you know they will enjoy.  A sample directly related to the survey is ideal, but anything of value to your audience can be effective. For example, If your selected respondents by and large support environmental causes, you might offer them a sample of a new eco-friendly product or service. Your goal is to find the sample product or service that best speaks to your target and stays within budget.

3: Charitable Donations for Survey Incentives

Charitable donations appeal to all socioeconomic groups, as we all have local and global causes we care about. However, this category in particular, requires that you know your audience. The stronger the emotional connection to the cause, the better your response rate will be and the more likely respondents will see you in a favorable light. Charitable donations also qualify for tax deductions, so you may choose to offer a higher value incentive.

Perhaps just as important are the incentive types we left off this list, particularly drawings.

About Drawings

A drawing (or raffle/sweepstakes) incentive gives your respondents a random chance to win a valuable prize, as opposed to a contest based on merit. They simply complete the survey and are automatically entered to win something. Since you won’t be giving away the big prize(s) to everyone, you are able to offer the bigger-ticket item(s) that could really appeal to them. However, there is one major drawback that keeps it off our recommended list – strict legal requirements.

If you want to do a drawing, make sure that you review with your legal counsel in order to determine whether it adheres to federal and state guidelines. The two most essential requirements are:

  • Providing a means for anyone who is contacted to participate in the drawing even if they decide not to complete the survey. This cannot be done online because that would discriminate against people without internet.
  • Provide a written copy of the rules, including terms and conditions, eligibility, start and end dates, and other details specific to state laws in every state where respondents live (and in every country if any live abroad).

Other incentives worth considering are industry white papers, branded giveaways, and a promise to share the survey results with them, depending on your target audience. These can also generate a significant bump in response rates, but not as dependable as our top 3.

While some have raised concern over potential demographic bias when using incentives, research has proven otherwise. Countless studies have determined that incentive offers have no adverse effect on the sampling of results. Rather, they have been shown to increase response rates evenly across respondent subgroups and improve data quality. The question is not whether to use them, but rather which ones will resonate most with your audience.

If you’d like more information on incentives, survey research, incentive fulfillment services or survey mailing services in general, contact us today!

The Truth Behind Gift Card Incentive Offers

As a leading provider of survey mailing services, we see just about every kind of incentive offer out there. These days, it seems everyone is on the Gift Card bandwagon. And for good reason. They work! But all Gift Cards are not the same. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that most of the gift cards you’ll find are not gift cards at all.

A gift card, by definition, is a prepaid stored-value money card issued by a retailer or bank, redeemable only for purchases within particular stores or businesses that take the branded card and cannot be cashed out. They typically never expire.

Interestingly enough, most survey research services do not use them. Instead, you are more likely to see Closed Loop Gift Cards or Prepaid Rewards Cards. Rewards Cards do expire. And here’s the twist. Somebody pockets the unused balance. After reading this blog, it may be you.

Here are the main differences between the 3 most common types of Incentive Gift Cards.

Gift Card

Closed Loop Gift Card

Closed loop is a payments industry term for a gift or credit card that can only be used in a single store or group of stores (e.g, Amazon, Starbucks, Darden Restaurants). Closed loop cards rarely have purchase or dormancy fees, which is a big plus. Some vendors allow co-branding for an additional fee and/or no cost for high volume orders. These types of cards are useful when your survey population is similar.

Prepaid Rewards Card

These cards look and act just like a Visa or Mastercard credit card. The difference is they will expire anywhere between 90 days to 12 months after activation. The longer they are active, the bigger the processing fee. The processing fees are less than Gift cards because the vendor will keep the unused funds after the card’s expiration. But take note. Some vendors will split the unused funds with you after the cards expire on high value/volume programs. If you are buying these cards in bulk, make sure you ask about this. Prepaid Rewards Cards are attractive to respondents because they can be used anywhere. They are useful when your survey population is varied and you need a one-size fits all approach. Just make sure to communicate the card and expiration rules to your respondents. Most importantly, do not refer to it as a gift card, as you will then be subject to the laws that govern them. Instead, refer to them as Prepaid or Rewards Cards.

Gift Card

Alas, the actual, straight-up Gift Card. These also look and act just like a Visa or Mastercard Credit card. And while they typically show an expiration date of 12 to 60 months (required for online purchases), they will be replaced at no cost with a new expiration and the balance left intact. Gift cards do have a higher activation fee, which is how banks make their money for producing the card and maintaining the account until the funds are used. But they hold an advantage over the other formats, as they can be used anywhere and typically don’t expire.

Here is a list of common fees for Gift Cards.:

Fee Type Amount Charged
Activation Fee $5.95 per card
Inactivity Fee* $5 per month
Lost/Stolen Card Reissue Fee $10 per occurrence
Standard Delivery $25 per order
Express Delivery $35 per order


*Assessed each month after 12 consecutive months of inactivity, after the Card Activation Date or anytime thereafter.

Unlike other mail survey companies, DataForce has a relationship with the banks, so we are able to provide regular Gift Cards in bulk that don’t expire, as well as Closed Loop and Prepaid Rewards Cards. Learn more>

Final Thoughts

    • All 3 types of Incentive Gift Cards are useful. The one you choose will largely depend on your target audience and your budget.
    • If you plan to use Rewards Gift Cards, make sure to ask for the opportunity to split the funds from unused balances.
    • Do not refer to Rewards Cards as Gift Cards or you will be subject to the laws that govern them.

If you’d like more information on gift card incentives, incentive fulfillment or mail surveys in general, contact us today.