“How much do you suggest for participant honorarium in your market?” 

“We’re on a tight budget for this project and need to make cuts somewhere. What is the minimum we can do for incentives?”

“How do you decide how much to pay people to come to these things?”

“Why am I being offered less money to come to a focus group than my mother was last year when she did a study at her house?” 


♡ 2010 by Mimi and Eunice

We often receive questions from clients regarding the appropriate honorarium amount for research studies in our market, and it isn’t unusual to hear questions from our participants about honorarium as well. We thought it might be helpful to breakdown the different types of research studies we see most commonly, and give a basic guideline to the different studies and how we assess honorarium in Arlington!

Remote: Because participants don’t need to leave their homes for a remote study, they are usually offered a smaller gift for their participation. More often than not, we send their compensation of $25-$75 in the form of an Amazon gift card. Why Amazon? Because it makes it easy to track through e-mail. We also try to avoid mailing checks (unless it’s through certified mail) because if they get lost, there’s a $50 fee to stop payment on a check of $75. The risk is simply too high.

Intercepts: This is a quick way to get your target participants who are in a specific location. We stop people in stores and ask them to partake in a brief survey. Depending on the length of the survey, people may participate without being compensated. They just want to give an opinion! Seeing that most people expect something for their time though, it’s harder to get people to talk to you as a “favor”, especially if the survey has some length to it! We once did an intercept in a series of grocery stores for a specific pet product, where we handed those willing to participate and complete the survey a $10 gift card to that grocery store. This was fun for the participants and worked really well! People really loved the idea and were willing to spend 20 minutes talking with us about their pets to earn a $10 card.

In person: When recruiting participants for a study we’re conducting “in-house,” it’s important to consider that they’re going to need enough motivation to leave their house and drive/metro in. If someone is going to take 2 hours out of their time to come in, chances are $25 won’t make the cut. Typically, we start at $75 cash. You need to appeal to their curiosity and usefulness as well as the cash incentive. If you want good quality participants who are engaged and happy to be there, then you need to make it worth their while and appeal through incentive (“money talks”).

Amounts vary greatly depending not only on length of study, but also topic, audience and incidence rate. A 2-hour study on a popular topic (like food or music) among the general population may offer the minimum amount of $75 because there is a high incidence rate and there will be plenty of folks who will come out for that allowing for a large pool of likely qualified candidates. On the other hand, a 1-hour session among males ages 25-35 on sensitive health related topics would want to offer a higher incentive. Not only will they be talking about uncomfortable/embarrassing topics, but you also have a much lower pool to pull from, as well as a lower incidence rate! You don’t want to lose participants because you aren’t paying enough.

Ethno: For a study where you tell the participants that you want to send someone into their home with a video camera, it may come off as creepy at first. This type of study is the hardest and requires the most money for two reasons: (1) people typically respond to $200 or more, and (2) it lets them know that this is serious research. Although ethnos are more challenging, we’ve done many and have found that people are willing to commit for the right amount of money. If you are requiring it to include a shop along, you should consider bumping up the incentive a little more, too!

Studies done with Elites, Leaders, Physicians, Officials, etc., tend to pay much higher incentives because we’re asking people with very busy schedules to fit us in. They don’t need the money, but they usually participate just because they think their opinions are valuable and they want to contribute in that way. Offering someone in these professions $75 for an hour of their time can come across as an insult and could give the impression that it’s a study not worth their time. We typically start around $175-$200 as a minimum honorarium for this audience.

Lastly, incentive and recruiting fees go hand in hand. The more incentive you offer, the more interest you are able to generate and in turn the recruiting can be easier and less expensive. If you skimp on the incentive, it will typically make it harder to appeal to the right demographic, and makes recruiting harder and drives the recruiting fees up.

Posted in Focus Group, negotiations, Research, tips.

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