Evidence-Based Innovation Blog

Boost Survey Response Rates: Round up Stragglers with Extensions

Posted on Jul 2, 2012 3:00:00 PM

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If you are planning to conduct a non-degree or graduate management education (GME) experience 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.


Track Unique Respondents

Once an initial survey invitation has been sent, it is important to send reminders to those who have not completed the survey. It is critical that each participant is given a unique survey link so survey completion can be tracked at the individual level. The reminder should include the survey link in order to have an impact in boosting response.

If participant identities are anonymous, then reminders will need to be sent to everyone. This lack of sophistication can annoy students/alumni who already responded to your request for feedback. However, this can be a ‘catch-22’ if your school is conducting the survey internally and desires to protect confidentiality (we will address the use of a trusted third-party research firm in a separate article).

Establish a Clear Schedule

Make sure you give a clear due date for non-degree and GME experience surveys. Most people need deadlines to prioritize their tasks. Typically, we recommend a two-week fielding period for web-based surveys. Going beyond three weeks with an announced deadline may actually lower response rates – we covered this in a separate blog article on timing.

With a two-week fielding window, one or two reminders are acceptable, and they should be somewhat different in context so that they are optimally distinguishable. Reminder notices should contain the deadline to complete the survey, how the results will be used, why participation is important, and contact information for reporting any technical difficulties.

Motivate with Deadlines

We have found that one of the best strategies for optimizing response rates is to have not one deadline, but two – an announced deadline and an actual deadline.

We recommend announcing that the survey deadline is two weeks (three weeks for a GME alumni survey) after the first invitation is sent. After this announced deadline passes, the school should provide a one-week extension to only those participants who have not yet responded.

The survey extension message should be personalized and the usefulness of the feedback reemphasized. Percept Research provides a template for survey extensions that can be utilized by our GME Lifecycle clients.

Offer Extensions Directly

Should the survey extension message come from your third-party research firm or directly from the school? 

While extending the duration of a survey internally or externally will increase the likelihood that more stakeholders will respond, most programs achieve a larger boost in survey completion when this extension comes directly from the program administrator after receiving multiple reminders from your third-party vendor.

The direct follow-up provides two distinct advantages:

  1. The stakeholders are more likely to be motivated by guilt and peer pressure to respond.
  2. Similar to the pre-alert notification, a direct extension message is more likely to be opened and not dismissed as SPAM.


Please leave us a comment about your non-degree or GME program’s tactics for boosting survey response. 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