In the academic research space, response rates are the most critical component of a research study. Organizations administering a survey should aim for a very high response rate for a multitude of reasons— with the major one being that you want to hear from the most people possible. By garnering feedback from the majority of your survey population, you will receive a full scope of thoughts and opinions (both positive and negative). Generally, statisticians agree that a 30% response rate is valid, enabling conclusions to be drawn from the results.

So, if the research standard is 30% for a valid survey response, why should you strive for anything higher?

Imagine this—you decide to survey your full workforce of 100 employees. You aim for 30% because that’s the research standard, and you easily reach that. Great, right? Maybe not, and here is why. This scenario means you only heard from 30 of your employees, and they were likely either highly engaged or disengaged (the groups most likely to give you feedback), and not an accurate representation of your total population. If you only receive feedback from the outliers, do you truly understand how the middle feels? Do you even know where the middle is in that case? Hence, the need to hear from as many respondents as possible!

The next logical question then is, “how do I increase response rates?” The answer to this query is usually “incentives.” But, does implementing an incentive policy skew your survey results? How do you ensure your incentives are appropriate and will actually increase response rates?

Incentives can set a positive tone and create excitement around the research—encouraging participation from respondents who aren’t so eager to complete their survey for one reason or another. People are much more likely to participate in something if they know they’re getting something in return. Incentives can be as simple or grandiose as you want them to be, so, do whatever you believe will instill the most excitement and elicit the most number of responses. These could include:

  • Choice of a candy bar or fruit after the completion of their survey
  • Complimentary beverage at Happy Hour
  • $25 Amazon gift card raffle
  • Free month of internet service or another additional perk
  • Movie tickets
  • The building/department with the highest percentage of participation wins a BBQ/Pizza/Ice Cream party. This competition can also serve as an opportunity for employee/resident engagement within a department/building

There are recommended ways to ensure survey anonymity and still have respondents confirm they have completed their survey. If the survey was completed online, respondents can print the survey completion confirmation page (these typically do not include any identifying information) and show it to an identified person responsible for the collection of surveys. In return for proof of completion, communities can distribute raffle tickets or stickers as proof of completion.

An underlying concern with providing survey incentives is that survey respondents won’t review and answer the survey in the same manner as if they were answering it based on their own internal motivations. While this is certainly a possible concern, time and time again, it’s been found that hearing from more people is better than hearing from less, even if their motives might be slightly suspect.

Think about incentives as a way to reward those individuals who would easily complete the survey and as an extra push for those whose priority is not to complete it. You’re always going to have survey respondents who won’t respond, no matter what incentive you offer, and that’s okay. But, why not try an incentive and see if you can boost that ever-important response rate!