Paying Respondents Can Lower Your Survey Costs
To get a more robust and representative sample, there are lots of things you can do that will encourage people to participate. You can send them reminders. You can call them. You can invest in snazzy designs to make your survey invitations ever more appealing. But here is one of the best investments you can make: pay them.
I use the word “invest” because it turns out that paying people to participate in your research may help to actually lower the overall cost of your research effort. This is based on a new study just published in the Journal of Survey Statistics and Methodology.
The researchers undertook a complicated effort to understand the impact of survey mode (paper vs. online), choice options, and incentive payments. This was in the context of asking randomly selected households to complete a 30-minute survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. They found that when they increased the incentive payment from $10 to $20, the overall cost of the study did not go up. Instead it went down.
It is a surprising outcome, but of course it makes sense. Overall costs are lower, the researchers note, because “the higher response rate and more timely response using the higher incentive … reduced the number of follow-up mailings required.” And, lest you worry that “buying” respondents might taint the data, keep in mind that lots of research shows that paying people does not influence their answers.
Keep in mind, as well, that you do not need huge sample sizes for robust statistical analysis, or to project to a large population. The cost of a $2, $5, or $10 incentive for a short 15-minute survey doled out to 300, 800, or 1,000 respondents can be miniscule compared to the overall cost of a research project. The best news of all is that you may well recoup that cost (and then some!) as your recruiting costs go down.