I have been fascinated with survey data my entire life. In 6th grade, I polled my classmates on whether or not they liked my classmate Kenneth Klein, to this day one of the 3 funniest people I have ever known.
I regularly watched Family Feud (I watched when Richard Dawson was the host.) As a political science undergraduate student I actually railed against “horserace” polls and their misuse in the media. Later after working for a few years, I decided to go back to school and had the great fortune to study survey research and work at the Center for Survey Research at The Ohio State University. While there, I read an article in the New York Times that rocked the foundation on which I had been working and studying. Here’s the segment of interest from the magazine article (free registration required) by Max Frankel, former executive editor at the New York Times, talking about how he was interrupted at dinner time by a telephone survey:
“…That telephone pollster called, naturally, in the middle of dinner. He asked what kind of car I dreamed of owning next. Fortunately, I was annoyed.
“Do you get paid for asking that?”
“Well, then, how much will I get for my answer?”
“Why nothing, sir. We have selected you so that we can learn how to serve you better.”
With no thought at all, I heard myself inventing a doctrine that I have smugly invoked ever since: “No pay, no say.” …”
The cliched lightbulb went on for me. The entire discipline of survey research rested on the assumption that people would answer researcher’s questions for free. Max wrote that in 1995, at the dawn of the internet. Today, online survey practitioners consider incentives as a matter of course.
As did we when we surveyed GlobalGiving’s donors and newsletter subscribers recently. (If you replied, thank you!) We offered respondents the opportunity to enter into a drawing for ten $50 gift certificates, for a total cost of $500. We received over 1,200 responses, so each survey “cost us” a little more than $.40 in incentives.
So imagine my surprise, when performing one of my other duties here at GlobalGiving, analyzing site traffic that leads to donations, I saw that we actually received donations from people who had filled out the survey at surveymonkey.com. Sixteen separate donations, averaging just over $100, for a total of $1,647! No, we won’t be sending out surveys to collect donations. But yes, here is yet another data point showing how lucky we at GlobalGiving are to be bringing together our donors and projects, breaking rules left and right.