Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Improving Mail Survey Response Rates through the Use of a Monetary Incentive. (Practice)

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Improving Mail Survey Response Rates through the Use of a Monetary Incentive. (Practice)

Article excerpt

The effectiveness of the use of monetary incentives in mail survey data collection is examined. Monetary incentives are easy to utilize, and their use produces higher rates of return compared to mailings in which nonmonetary incentives or no incentives are provided. The use of monetary incentives is more cost effective than other types of incentives and may be particularly valuable when extensive follow-up is necessary.


Mental health counselors rely on the use of surveys to collect data for the purposes of research, needs assessment, and program evaluation (Hershenson & Power, 1987). As anticipated by Kelly (1996), survey research has provided valuable information about the clientele and work settings of mental health counselors (Vacc, Loesch, & Guilbert, 1997) as well as the opinions and practices of mental health counselors (e.g., Mead, Hohenshil, & Singh, 1997). Mental health counselors fill many roles in their work, including ascertaining clients' needs and the effectiveness of programs. Mental health counselors may use surveys for these purposes.

Kelly (1996) anticipated that surveys would be used to investigate the professional practice of mental health. Aspects of professional practice of mental health counselors, which could be investigated using surveys, include their clientele, work settings, and interactions with managed care. The views and opinions of mental health counselors can and have been explored via surveys (Pistole, 1996). In addition, a substantial proportion of the research reported in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling uses survey methodology to collect data.

Given the widespread use of the survey in mental health counseling practice (e.g., needs assessment and program evaluation) and research, mental health counselors can benefit from using the best survey strategies available. Although self-report questionnaires delivered through the mail are probably the most frequent data collection method utilized, obtaining a good rate of response from study participants is an immense challenge (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1992). A poor rate of response may prohibit generalization and ultimately undermine the validity of the survey's results (Fong, 1992; Heppner et al., 1992). Thus, a broad array of strategies has been used to increase survey response rates, including pre-notification; follow-ups; personalization of survey materials; changing the color and size of the cover letter, survey, envelope and postage; and using a variety of promised and provided incentives, monetary and nonmonetary (Weathers, Furlong, & Solorzano, 1993). One strategy that is underutilized, but that may improve studies that employ surveys in data collection, is the use of a monetary incentive (Heberlein & Baumgartner, 1978;Weathers et al., 1993). This strategy appears to stand out from the others in regard to the factors of effectiveness, ease of implementation, and cost effectiveness.

A considerable amount of research has supported the effectiveness of the use of monetary incentives in survey research (e.g., Armstrong, 1975; Brennan, 1992; Church, 1993; Gajraj, Faria, & Dickinson, 1990; Heberlein & Baumgartner, 1978; James & Bolstein, 1990; Mizes, Fleece, & Roos, 1984). Monetary incentives have been found to be an easy, successful, cost-effective, and universal method for obtaining good response rates (Brennan; Brennan, Hoek, & Astridge, 1991). At the same time, there is little evidence that practitioners and researchers in mental health counseling are taking full advantage of the use of the monetary incentive. We examined the response rates reported for survey research published in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling (JMHC), 16(1), through 23(3), and the Journal of Counseling and Development (JCD), 73(1), through 79(1). Notably, 16 of the 68 research studies in the JMHC and 17 of the 151 research studies in the JCD used surveys. …

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