Survey incentives show appreciation for participants' time and effort, fostering a positive relationship between the organization and respondents.

The practice of incentivizing surveys (i.e. incentive surveys) has sparked considerable controversy among researchers and experts in the field. Critics argue that offering incentives, such as monetary rewards or gift cards, may compromise the quality and authenticity of the responses received. However, it is crucial to delve deeper into this subject and examine the evidence before jumping to conclusions.

When analyzing the potential impact of survey incentives, it is important to consider various factors. For example, research has shown that offering incentives can significantly increase response rates, ensuring a larger and more diverse pool of participants. This, in turn, leads to more robust and representative data, allowing NGOs to make more informed decisions and develop impactful interventions.

In the next section, we delve deeper into the domain of survey incentives to help you amplify your NGO's data collection and learn how to Debunk the dirty data myth and harness the true power of your efforts. 

The dirty data myth

Are you unsure or undecided about whether to incentivize potential participants for your next survey? If so, let's dive into the concept of the "dirty data myth" and how debunking it could guide you in making the right decision. The dirty data myth revolves around the notion that offering rewards to survey takers can lead to inaccurate, low-quality, or unreliable data. 

However, it's essential to recognize that this belief is simply a myth. By exploring this myth further, we can gain a deeper understanding of its origins and why it shouldn't hinder us from considering incentives for survey participants. 

So, let's break down the misconceptions and shed light on the benefits of incentivization in gathering meaningful and valuable data for your surveys. The quality of your data and effectiveness of a survey depends on a wide range of factors, such as: 

  1. Topic: The choice of topic is crucial as it determines the relevance and interest of the survey to the participants. A well-selected topic ensures higher response rates and more meaningful data.
  2. Question-wording: The way questions are asked can significantly impact the quality of responses. Clear, concise, and unbiased wording helps to elicit accurate and relevant information from participants.
  3. Survey length: The length of the survey plays a vital role in participant engagement. Keeping the survey concise and focused prevents respondent fatigue and increases completion rates.
  4. Participant experience: The ease and convenience of completing the survey influence participation rates. A user-friendly interface and clear instructions enhance respondent satisfaction and data quality.
  5. Survey design best practices: Implementing survey design best practices ensures that surveys are effectively structured and optimized for data collection. This includes factors such as question order, response options, and the use of skip logic to tailor the survey experience.
  6. Perceived value of incentives: Incentives can motivate participants to complete surveys and provide meaningful responses. The perceived value of incentives influences participant enthusiasm and willingness to engage.

Considering these factors, the topic of the survey holds particular importance as it determines the relevance, impact, and engagement of the participants. A compelling and relevant topic increases the chances of obtaining valuable insights and accurate data from the survey respondents.

A well-selected topic not only attracts a larger and more diverse pool of respondents, but it also ensures that the survey results align with the specific objectives and research goals. 

Survey incentives as a strategy    

You should now be convinced that incentivizing surveys won’t necessarily lead to bad data, but what about its other benefits? Offering rewards for completing surveys is often an effective way to increase survey response rates and motivate respondents to provide more thoughtful answers. Additionally, the right incentive can attract a larger and more diverse pool of participants, which in turn leads to higher-quality survey results. 

However, it is important to note that incentives should be carefully selected; they should be relevant to the target audience and appropriate for the topic being studied. Furthermore, bonuses should be structured in a way that encourages participants to respond more thoughtfully and thoroughly. 

For example, offering a one-time reward for each completed survey may motivate respondents to rush through the process, whereas providing rewards after answering each section of the survey might encourage them to consider their answers more carefully. Ultimately, selecting the right incentives can help ensure success. 

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One 2023 systematic review and meta-analysis found that incentives didn’t change the quality of your survey in any statistically meaningful way. It makes sense that well-structured surveys will prevent incentives from negatively impacting the data collected.

However, the above meta-analysis concluded even more positively, showing that incentives actually resulted in a higher response rate, which is always good for research purposes.


NGOs and research incentives — why do it? 

Should your NGO offer incentives to respondents? If there's any risk of impacting the data, wouldn't it be better not to? 

Actually, NGO survey incentives offer several benefits for your data collection as follows:

Boost response rates

Incentives are the most effective method of encouraging survey participation. 

While you hope people will take your survey out of the kindness of their hearts, many won't. The average survey respondent isn't as committed to your data as you are. They won't feel much pull to take the survey without an incentive.

That’s why even the smallest incentive could give your audience enough extrinsic motivation to take your survey, leading to higher response rates, which increases the data you have to work with.

Produce more balanced data

The people who feel strongly positive or strongly negative about your NGO survey topic may be more likely to share their opinions than those who don’t have much of an opinion about it. However, failing to account for these neutral bystanders could skew your data. 

Incentives motivate the average person to take your survey, even if they don't have strong feelings about your cause. With balanced data—not just the positive or negative extremes—you’ll have deeper insight into the topic you’re trying to unpack. 

Improve answer quality 

Could survey participants who know they are receiving incentives for their time be more thoughtful about their responses or spend more time answering open-ended questions? If people feel you value their time, perhaps you'll see fewer survey respondents rushing through that carefully crafted survey.

Still, you could always include a question to give you an idea of who isn’t reading and responding as thoroughly as they should. For example, include questions that instruct respondents to choose a specific answer and see what happens.


Types of NGO surveys and incentives

Surveys are an excellent way for your NGO to collect data that will eventually shape what you do. Below are a few common NGO surveys with the types of survey incentives that could work for each one.

Marketing research

Which marketing channels does your target market respond to best? 
What demographics make up your current audience? 
How could you improve your services to better suit your clientele's needs? 

These are the types of questions to ask in a marketing research survey. Direct, focused feedback from people your NGO wants to engage helps you identify trends, understand the demographics, and get personal information so that you can provide the best services possible.

Understandably, the more people who respond to your marketing research survey, the more powerful your data set will be. Small incentives, like $2 gift cards, might be more doable than sending a $10 gift to every survey respondent. Alternatively, use a giveaway with a larger prize or just a handful of participants.

Donor feedback

The success of your food bank, sponsorship program, or cause hinges on donor satisfaction. Why not leverage a donor feedback survey? It could reveal how to make your program more impactful.

Of course, donors may not be as motivated by monetary incentives as other types of survey respondents. Instead, consider heartfelt survey incentive ideas, like personalized thank-you notes from your leadership team. 

Volunteer feedback 

Your volunteers underpin your NGO’s ongoing success. Are they satisfied with their experience? A volunteer feedback survey can help you retain current volunteers, motivate them to continue aiding your organization and invite them into your mission or purpose.

Survey incentives will demonstrate your appreciation for volunteers. Why not implement a referral program where current volunteers can receive incentives for referring their friends and boost volunteer acquisition?

Easy and cost-effective

We chose Giftbit because we realized a large chunk of our digital gift cards weren't being redeemed. Giftbit was the perfect solution to help us recoup some of that money and apply it to the next order. It's easy to upload contacts and make templates. They also allow for a bunch of different gift card options which shows that we care about our recipients (by letting them choose which type of gift is right for them).

Justina S., Director
Non-Profit Organization Management


Market research and survey best practices

There's no doubt about it—some form of incentives will play an integral role in collecting data for your NGO. However, incentives are far from the only factor impacting the success or failure of your surveys. 

Following the best practices below can help you and your team collect better-quality data that delivers an excellent ROI for the capital you've spent on the research.

Determine your objectives and make them crystal clear 

Are you sure that you have a clear goal in mind for your survey? If not, it’s best to sit down with your notepad or favorite sounding board before you even begin writing questions. 

What types of information are you trying to glean? 

What is your survey going to be achieving for your organization?

Once you know your goal, place it at the beginning of the survey. "The purpose of this survey is to learn ____." If your respondents understand your angle, they’ll know how to focus their answers and understand the value of their responses. 

Shorter is better 

Time is money, so keep your survey as short as possible to boost response rates. The longer your survey, the more likely participants will be to drop out and skew your results. Surveys longer than 25 minutes lost more than three times as many respondents compared to surveys under 5 minutes.

Can you keep your survey under 10 minutes? If you find your survey running longer, more valuable incentives might encourage participants to hold on until the end. Alternatively, consider dividing the survey into two parts, each with a more specific goal in mind.

Test drive your surveys

Before sending out your survey to the masses, it’s best to do a quick test drive across a small sample of people who are representative of your target audience. It could even be staff members or peers. 

Doing a test run allows you to assess any initial information and improve weak or poorly framed questions. That way, you may improve the quality of the data you receive from the real survey.

Ensure timely distribution of incentives

Immediate rewards play a crucial role in boosting people's motivation to take action. When it comes to surveys, offering immediate rewards not only increases the likelihood of participants returning for future surveys but also strengthens the connection between their actions and the benefits they receive. By showcasing this direct link between actions and rewards, your NGO is positioned in a favorable light, emphasizing the positive impact and value it brings to the community it serves