Like the students filling the classrooms at Virginia Commonwealth University, its researchers do their homework. When one team needed to ensure high response rates for an upcoming survey, they wanted to make sure to find the best solution. Their tests of — and ultimate success with — offering gift card incentives to respondents and distributing digital rewards through BHN Rewards show that survey incentives don’t need to be a hassle.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia, has long been a research leader among public institutions. Its sponsored research funding exceeded $310 million in 2019, a new record for the school. Under the Carnegie Classification, VCU is categorized as an R1 Doctoral University, the highest ranking for research institutions.
One key arm of VCU’s research enterprise is the Survey & Evaluation Research Laboratory (SERL), part of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU. SERL’s mission is to “examine public and social issues using applied research techniques to broaden and improve public discourse and decision-making.” An essential part of data collection and survey research is ensuring a representative sample size, so the team at SERL looked to incentives to try to boost their response rates.
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The first step was a pilot survey. SERL Director of Design and Methodology Jim Ellis and his team started by evaluating the options for incentives management platforms to help them distribute rewards. They got enthusiastic references for BHN Rewards from fellow researchers in the Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations (AASRO) and, after doing their own comparison, decided BHN Rewards was right for them, too.
“BHN Rewards seemed to be by far the best offer, mainly because of the 100% refund policy” on unclaimed rewards, Ellis said.
Once launched, the pilot survey was used to test varied rewards and tactics — including physical and digital gift card incentives, a prize drawing, and even just different invitation styles — to see how each affected response rates. SERL found gift cards to be the clear winner.
“Offering the gift cards was the single most important factor in increasing response rates in our pilot survey,” Ellis said.
Armed with that information, SERL moved to its production survey, which started in December 2020. Based on the pilot survey results, the team settled on a $10 reward, again offering respondents a choice: a physical Target gift card or a selection of digital gift cards via BHN Rewards (which also allowed respondents to make an e-donation of their card value).
Of the 15,000-plus participants, 70% opted to receive a virtual gift card from BHN Rewards. Thanks to BHN Rewards’ extensive rewards catalog, those recipients got to choose from a wide range of brands, such as Walmart and Starbucks, with more than half selecting the Amazon reward.
For those survey participants who were intrinsically motivated, the donation option proved to be effective. Nearly $3,000 was distributed to nonprofit organizations, including the National Park Foundation, World Food Program, Clean Water Fund, American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity.
While BHN Rewards gave SERL’s respondents a great incentives experience, Ellis and his team were the real winners. Before implementing BHN Rewards — and even still for those respondents who chose a physical gift card — SERL had to manually purchase and distribute those rewards, a time-consuming and costly process.
“We saved easily 25 cents to maybe 50 cents for every BHN Rewards card that was fulfilled — about $2,300 to $4,600” total, Ellis said.
Time was also on their side. BHN Rewards’ seamless integration with Qualtrics was “hugely important,” Ellis said, especially considering new pandemic policies from the university that required senior staff to do more of the work to handle incentives. Automating the reward delivery with BHN Rewards saved these team members time so they could focus more on their research.
“You have to figure in the costs for the time it takes to be the custodian of a gift card or petty cash fund, log it, reconcile it, file paperwork on it, take the risk of theft or loss … Those risks largely go away with the BHN Rewards e-card service,” he said.
SERL’s time savings aren’t a surprise: On average, automating reward delivery decreases the administrative burden by 75%. BHN Rewards’ custom Qualtrics integration, combined with a simple, self-service platform, allows researchers to launch rewards programs quickly, eliminate manual reward delivery, and streamline management.
Throughout the process, Ellis’ team found success not only by saving time and money, but also by joining with an incentives partner that helped them drive their program forward. BHN Rewards “has been a pleasure to deal with,” he said. “This was the first time we did anything with e-cards, so even though we did a pilot survey, it was essentially an experiment at scale, and it worked.”
Want to increase your response rates and streamline gift card incentives like VCU did? Contact us to learn more about how BHN Rewards can support your research.
The mission-driven research of VCU’s Survey & Evaluation Research Lab provides valuable insight for both the institution and its surrounding community. Learn more about its work.