Blog Posts
April 4, 2024

The important role of incentives in research recruitment

Explore our guide on research incentives: boost participation, enhance data quality, and navigate ethical practices for optimal results.

Getting research done is hard enough. Getting research done without offering incentives makes it extremely challenging. While a seemingly small piece of the research puzzle, incentives paint a big picture of how you view the value of insights the participant is offering. To make sure you’re setting a great first impression for your org and research team, it’s important to know the role incentives play within a research project. 

Below we cover why you should use incentives, what types/amounts of incentives to offer, and the ethical implications of it all. We want to help you become well equipped to enable your team to do the best research possible, while having a best-in-class participant experience. 

Do incentives help with research success? 

In short, yes. Research shows that incentives can increase the rate of participation and reduce bias — all great things to get high-quality research done faster.

By offering incentives, you’re showing your participants that you think their time and insights are worth reimbursing. This can lead to:

  • Higher quality participants
  • Conversations with hard-to-reach participants (think C-suite, or niche behavior!)
  • Hard earned insights your organization needs

What type of incentive should I offer? 

Depending on your budget and the demographic of your participant pool, your options fall into two camps; timing or type.

Timing of incentive: 

  1. Pre-paid: This type of incentive is given before the research begins. While still an option, this is less popular given many research projects have specific quotas (e.g. types of participants) that need to be filled for a project, and you won’t know who they are until, well, they start the research task or session! 
  2. Promised: This happens after the research is completed and often is distributed 1-2 within 1-2 weeks (but can be as soon as 24 hours after!). It’s also the most common method and can be a gift card, an entry into a lottery, or a charity donation.

Type of incentive: 

  1. Monetary: Gift cards, cash, and checks all count as a monetary incentive. Rally can help support any type of monetary incentive you need.

  2. Non-Monetary: This could be a charitable donation, offer of swag, or a promo code for your organization’s service. 

How much of an incentive should I offer? 

Unfortunately, the real answer is — it depends.

Here are some guidelines I like to follow when thinking of the types and amounts of incentives I offer within my organization:

  1. Length and Type: What type of research are you conducting? Unmoderated? Moderated? Is the survey short and sweet? You need to establish what you will incentivize for each minute. Industry standard is around $1 to $1.50 a minute, but you should keep in mind the difficulty of the task. If your usability test requires navigating through a complex page or your survey is asking a lot of ranking and thought provoking open answers, consider upping the amount per minute.

  2. Demographic: Who you are recruiting for your research matters as well. Gen pop (also known as B2C) can be more accessible, thus requiring lower incentives to get completed sessions for your research project. B2B participants, such as business professionals, small business owners, or C-suite often require higher incentives not only because they are harder to find, but because they already know their hourly rate. To ask for an hour of their time for your research study, you need to be realistic about the time they are spending with you vs. what they get paid at their day job. It most likely won’t be the same, but you have to make it worth it. 
  1. Geographic: Just like salaries, knowing the geographic location of the participants (specifically in the United States) can be beneficial to know. For example, if you’re targeting business professionals in New York / East Coast, you may want to offer an amount relative to the salaries in the area, compared to professionals in other locations. This applies to international incentives as well, keeping in mind exchange rates and average salaries in other parts of the world. 

Don’t forget the ethics and taxes of incentives 

Incentives have been used in many scenarios to encourage behavior — commission for sales folks or employers giving cash incentives for quitting smoking or getting steps in. But you need to keep in mind that your incentive should never exert influence on your participant’s intrinsic motivation or make them feel coerced into participating in your research.

Researchers suggest that those involved in deciding on incentives should keep in mind the design/type of the incentive, what the exact reward is, and whether the incentive impacts the participants’s intrinsic motivation.

You should also always be clear with your participant about how much they will receive, and make sure the participant receives that incentive within a reasonable time frame. For moderated research, I recommend getting the incentive to the participant within 24-48 hours if possible. For unmoderated, within 24 hours of the test or survey closing. Not only does that build trust between your org and the participant, but it’s ethically responsible. 

If you’re incentivizing with cash or gift cards, you still need to think of Uncle Sam. In the United States, any amount above $600 is considered taxable income and needs to be reported to the United States government. Keep track of your incentives and set incentive limits (like Rally does in our CRM!) so you don’t go over. 

How does Rally simplify incentives for research? 

Now that you know what types of incentives are available, how much to offer, and some ethics and taxes related to incentives, where do you go to make sure you can set your team up for success? 

Rally makes the incentive process efficient and simple by giving you a detailed incentive dashboard that tracks incentives by participants, ensuring you don’t go over set limits. You can set custom governance rules so that participants who have reached the annual incentive limit don’t get selected for a study. Rally’s incentives gives you the flexibility you need for incentive distribution since it’s powered by Tremendous, enabling you to choose the amount of monetary incentive. The participant can choose the incentive type (from prepaid cards, gift cards, cash or charitable donations) in their local currency. You can also create and manage multiple team budgets, enabling PMs or designers to confidently run their own research and incentivize participants. 

But most importantly, Rally delivers a stand-out participant experience. Incentives tend to be the first impression your participant has of your org, so you need a tool that enables you to exceed expectations. Rally makes the participant experience seamless, from initial invitation to incentive redemption. Schedule a demo today and see how we enable world class teams to run research at scale.

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