Simple Survey Idea #3: Give Something Away

When you do a survey, you are asking people for their time and their opinions.  People are increasingly aware of the value of both.

With that in mind, it is a good practice – even among those who already know and trust you – to give something away in appreciation for their input.  Doing so will bless people and build goodwill.  It will also improve your response rate (and therefore the quality of your data).  And it will make them more inclined to participate in future surveys.

“But we don’t have the budget to give anything away,” I sometimes hear people say.  I say, “If you can’t find something to give away, you’re not trying very hard.”  You don’t need budget – there are lots of ways to give survey responders something for free.

The first thing you should give them is a short survey.  That may be a topic for another Simple Survey Ideas post, but it’s so important that it always warrants mentioning.

You can give people access to the survey results, a good idea if your responders are peers/stakeholders and you know they will be interested in what you are learning.  Depending on your survey software, it may cost you some time to format and email results out to those who responded.  But if you use an online package like Survey Monkey, you can set up options to automatically show the survey results to date upon completion of the survey.  That “Instant Results” feature is even available on the free Survey Monkey package.

Of course, the first few people who respond won’t get a very complete picture, so you might also want to send people a link to the full set of responses once you complete and close the survey.  This option is available in all of Survey Monkey’s paid subscription plans.

Quick aside: the advantages that you get with the online services’ paid plans (unlimited responses, survey logic, ability to download data, HTTPS security) make them well worth the cost (vs. the free plan) for almost any survey.  Even if you are just doing a one-off survey, you should still sign up for a month and then cancel the subscription when you’re done.  Your survey is worth the $24 investment.

Another useful offering is free-information-of-interest-to-respondents.  I use this with virtually every survey I do.  You can almost always find an article or ebook or presentation or video related to your survey topic or to a common interest of the survey audience.  Even if you don’t produce content, you can always find something free on the Internet to direct people to.

In this way, you can say in your survey invitation, “Everyone who completes the survey will receive a free ‘Top 10′ list of resources about _____.”  It doesn’t matter that the list is out there on the Internet for anyone to find – linking people to it is delivering value.  With Survey Monkey, the option to redirect survey finishers to the website of your choice only comes with annual plans.  So, you may need the workaround of embedding your own link on the last page of the survey, so responders can get to your resource.  At the risk of going beyond “simple,” try something like this:

Thanks for completing our survey.  Before clicking “Done,” click <a href=”” target=”_blank”>this link </a> to open a new window with the free resource we promised.

Be careful that the resource will be of interest to nearly everyone that you invite.  Giveaways that appeal only to a certain segment of your audience will lead to response bias.

Should you ask permission of the content provider in advance?  It’s a good idea but not required – groups that offer free content on the web typically want people to find that content.  You benefit them by linking to their site.  Groups that provide many free mission-related resources include the World Evangelical Alliance and the U.S. Center for World Mission.

A quick-response incentive promises resources to the first X number of responders.  This can be a good idea if you have a limited number of tangible resources to give away – and especially if you need responses quickly.

A related incentive is the sweepstakes prize offer, where respondents are randomly selected to receive a prize – usually something with significant value.  Many researchers use a combination of a free something-for-everyone resource with a high-value sweepstakes prize for a few randomly selected winners.

I like sweepstakes offers – they are fun and they work to generate response.  But you have to be responsible with them – some laws apply (see a quick overview here and know that this post does not constitute legal advice).  If you go this route, make sure that everyone who responds has an equal chance to win (even those who don’t meet the criteria for responding to your survey – nothing ruins a good survey like people lying to qualify for a prize), clearly communicate what and how many prizes you are giving away, eligibility, how and how often you can enter, when the giveaway will take place, how winners will be notified, approximate likelihood of winning, and any geographic or residency limitations.

That sounds like a lot, but consider that the following covers all of that without sounding too much like the legal disclaimer lingo in car dealer’s radio ad:

“You and up to 400 others who complete the survey by March 31 will qualify for a random prize drawing for one of 10 copies of the Operation World DVD.  One entry allowed per survey link.  In April GMI will inform the 10 winners by email – they will need a valid U.S. mailing address to receive their DVD.  Not valid where prohibited by law.”

How to manage a random drawing without hundreds of slips of paper and a huge hat?  Discover the RAND function in Excel.  Very handy – be sure to sort, save and print results for your records.

Also make sure to give away everything you promise.  If some people don’t claim their prize by a given date, move on to the next people on your randomized list.

Prize giveaways are appealing to most, but it is not unusual for those in ministry circles to steer clear of them because of their similarity to gambling games of chance.  Before launching a contest, be sure your organization’s leadership knows about it.  If you run into concerns, one alternative is to allow or encourage winners to donate their prize to charity.

Some survey sponsors use a charitable donation as the incentive itself, which carries real appeal for respondents.  One commercial firm I worked with leads off its surveys with a question like this:

In appreciation for your opinion, our firm will be distributing charitable donations totaling $1000.  From the following list, please select the charitable organization that you would like your portion of the donation to go toward:

__ Organization A

__ Organization B


If your group is a charitable organization, you can use a list of projects instead.  This works well if you can (truthfully) mention that an individual donor has put up the gift money to be distributed in this manner.

A final tip that applies to any gift or incentive that you offer: don’t position it as the primary reason to respond – especially in the subject line of an invitation email.  Not only do words like “prize” and “win” tend to trigger spam filters, but leading with the gift offer sends a message to invitees that you view the exercise as a transaction (or worse, that you think they are primarily motivated by greed).

Instead, keep the focus on the importance of the survey topic and the value of the person’s opinion – then mention the gift or prize.  As a survey sponsor, your identity should be that of a listener asking people for the favor of their input and offering them the opportunity for involvement – plus a gift as a token of your appreciation – rather than as a purchaser of people’s opinions.


Simple Survey Idea #1: Keep survey language simple

I am working on a web survey for a group of people in India.  Smart folks, many of them technology savvy.  And they speak English — but often not as their first language.

Some surveys should be translated or fielded in multiple languages.  For many surveys, though, English is sufficient.  But what kind of English?

My default mode is to use more complicated English than is needed.  The more I work with multilingual people around the world, the more I realize the value of keeping language simple, especially with surveys and interview questions.

The good news is that there are tools out there that can help.  Here is a site that lets you paste in text and compare it to one of many collections of simple English words.  It shows which words are not considered simple. 

With many international audiences it is a good idea to test your language before sending out a survey.

I put the above portion of this post into the site and found out that the following words were not included in a somewhat large collection of 15,000 simple words: web, savvy, and multilingual.  With smaller collections, many more words miss the cut, including realizecompare and survey.

Try it out — you have nothing to lose but complexity.