Give First, Then Survey

Increase survey response rates with hard-to-reach audiences by giving an unexpected, customized, meaningful benefit first.

February 10, 2020 · 2-minute read

Do you face challenges in getting hard-to-reach audiences to take your online surveys?

The traditional approach is to offer respondents a benefit – a payment, gift card, charity donation, and the like – only after they’ve joined a panel or filled out a survey.

Are you adventurous enough to consider a new approach?

In one experiment, respondents who received payment with their invitation to take a long survey were 15% more likely to agree to participate than the traditional approach.

You’d be right to be skeptical. Some respondents might resent receiving a benefit they don’t like. Others might judge that what they got wasn’t a benefit. Freeloaders might take the advantage but not the survey.

To optimize the upside while minimizing the down, let’s make what we give meaningful, unexpected, and customized – and then wrap our gift in gratitude.

  • Gratitude stimulates returns because respondents feel appreciation and, when the survey is sponsored, nurtures relationship building and brand affinity.
  • We gain leverage the more we customize the benefit with our respondent’s needs, preferences, and situation. It’s not always about the money.
  • Unexpected means we’re getting their attention with surprise (the advance benefit) and holding their attention with interest (by stoking their curiosity).
  • Costliness isn’t necessary. Meaningful does not mean expensive. Showing respondents how taking the survey contributes to them making a difference helps.

With this approach, we can speed up collecting trustworthy insights about what our customers want.

Consider constructing an inexpensive experiment to test on a small scale and see for youself the measurable results giveing first can produce. Call it a little bet or dipping your toes in the water before plunging headfirst. Why guess when you can know? We then let the best idea prove itself.

To learn more about this and other practical approaches to fielding long surveys to and hard-to-reach audiences, send me a message. I’m very easy to get in touch with. I check and answer my own email.


Scherpenzeel, A., and V. Toepol. 2012. “Recruiting a Probability Sample for an Online Panel.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76: 470–90.

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