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Boost Business School Survey Response Rates: Pre-Alert Notification

Posted on Jun 26, 2012 9:23:00 AM

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If you are planning to conduct a non-degree or graduate management education (GME) survey, it is important to do everything you can to boost your response rate to minimize cost and speed up the turnaround time. This is one of a series of articles to provide tips and tricks to help you get the best possible response rate from your business school market research.


The Value of Pre-Notification

The research is mixed regarding the extent of the effect that pre-notification letters have on survey response rates. But since most studies do indicate at least a modest increase in survey completion rates, it is a good idea to send a pre-notification message for your non-degree and GME experience surveys.

Sending a pre-notification letter from your senior leadership can help enlist survey participation and improve response rates. The letter provides an opportunity to “hook” respondents to develop an expectation to participate in the survey and that business school stakeholder opinions matter.

We recommend that the program director or dean send a pre-alert message a day or two before the survey fielding begins. The advance message explains the purpose of the stakeholder survey, encourages participation, and legitimizes the method of collecting feedback. The message can position the importance of stakeholder input to the school. Providing advance notice of a survey shows respect for their opinion, which can improve the response rate.

A pre-notification message is especially important if the school is utilizing a third-party research firm to conduct the survey. This establishes credibility that the third-party firm is working on your behalf as well as reinforces the school’s respect for maintaining the confidentiality of your stakeholder feedback. 

Additionally, participants should be instructed to check their SPAM email folders or contact program administration if they have not received the survey invitation from the third-party research supplier by the designated fielding start date. This helps ensure the deliverability of the survey invitations at the very beginning of the survey fielding.

When sample sizes are small as they typically are for GME student satisfaction surveys, every response really counts and a pre-letter is highly recommended.

Content of the Pre-Alert Message

What should be included in the pre-notification message? In preparing the participants, the message should communicate clearly and succinctly the following:

  • Purpose and Personal Encouragement. Briefly describe the background and objectives of the survey. Utilize first-person language to ask for stakeholders’ feedback and offer appreciation for helping the school with continuous improvement. It is also helpful to forewarn that you plan to follow up directly with those who do not complete the survey.
  • WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Justify why the participant should complete the survey. Be sure to state any direct or indirect benefits the stakeholder might receive as a result of the survey, such as improved program delivery or long-term improvement to boost business school rankings. It is also useful to point to specific examples of how information obtained from past surveys has been implemented.
  • Incentive Details. Offering incentives is a great way to increase participation. If you have not done so already, check with your school’s administrative office to determine its policy, if any, relating to providing incentives.
  • Introduce a Third-Party Proxy. Include a brief introduction to identify the research firm conducting this research on your behalf.
  • Confidentiality. Remind participants that responses will be confidential since your third-party vendor will collect and analyze the results. When survey responses will remain confidential, it is important to make potential respondents aware of this fact.
  • How long the survey will take. Indicate the estimated time commitment involved.  If the survey is perceived to be too long, then the participant may not start the survey, or abandon the survey after beginning it. Additionally, it is important to announce the survey fielding end date.
  • Survey Results. Let respondents know when the results will be ready and how they will be communicated (e.g., email, newsletter, webcast, class announcement, secure website, etc.). Explain how the results will be utilized. See this related article about broadcasting survey results.
  • Survey Support. Provide a support contact that will assist the participants if they have any technical difficulty with completing the survey or have general questions.

Percept Research provides guidance and pre-alert templates for each of the GME Lifecycle surveys that clients can customize to their personal tone.

Other Methods of Pre-Notification

Sometimes, it is practical and effective to embed survey pre-alert information in a communication routinely received by the stakeholder or on a website they frequent. 

Higher education institutions can promote awareness of the survey with a website, intranet, newsletter, and social media accounts. This approach could be as simple as including a brief notice about the upcoming survey in the "What's New" (or equivalent) section of a website or newsletter. Doing so will help lend legitimacy to the study and broaden the awareness that the business school leadership desires and respects feedback.


Please leave us a comment on how your non-degree or GME program alerts stakeholders of upcoming surveys. We would love to hear about your experience and your tips!


Brian Mahoney, the author for this article, is a marketing research consultant and Managing Partner of Percept Research. Brian welcomes your questions and comments.

Topics: Brian Mahoney, Boost Response Rates