Skip to main content

Incentive Payments to Research Participants

If you plan to make payments to participants in your research study, please review the following information carefully. Before submitting your protocol to the IRB, we recommend that you read this Overview, the pages that pertain to your funding source (personal funds or University funds), and the Template Language for Consent Forms document.

Note that this overview pertains only to the distribution of the incentive payments; the IRB determines through protocol review process whether the amount of the incentive is appropriate.

The Research Incentive Wizard can also provide information about different types of incentives and fund sources.

Getting Started

The handling of research participation incentives differs depending on the source of funds, and on the type and value of the incentive:

  • Personal funds are out of pocket expenses that will not be reimbursed by any University funds.
  • University funds involve any fund source that must be processed through the University, whether directly or by reimbursement.
    • "University funds" include departmental funds, University Research Grants (URGs), faculty research accounts, external grants, dissertation completion grants, etc. Foundation accounts cannot be used for gift cards.
    • The documentation required for research incentives paid using University funds varies with the amount of the incentive. Incentives of $25 or less require the least amount of supporting documentation.
  • Third parties occasionally provide incentives directly to research participants with no University funds paid to the third party. PIs involved in studies using payments by third parties should contact the RIC at for guidance.

Research Incentive Coordinator (RIC)

The RIC is the PI’s single point of contact for research participation incentives. The RIC is CITI-trained, has signed a confidentiality agreement, serves on the Executive Committee of the IRB, and is the Business Manager for the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

The RIC will be primarily involved with studies using University funds, but is available for assistance and advice for all studies. For University-funded studies, the RIC will help researchers navigate the requirements and maintain compliance by

  • verifying that the study has been approved by the IRB or has been determined to be exempt from further review
  • verifying that the amount of the compensation requested is consistent with the approved IRB protocol (if applicable)
  • verifying that research research incentives are an allowable expense (if study is grant funded)
  • authorizing electronic gift cards (for electronic distribution) and, in special cases, purchasing gift cards (for physical distribution)
  • collecting Participant Receipt Forms (PRFs) for studies with payments of more than $25 per participant
  • processing the Incentive Reconciliation Form (IRF) to reconcile distribution records with participant logs

Type of Incentive

The most commonly used types of incentives include:

  • Electronic gift card
  • Physical gift card
  • Visa/MasterCard gift cards (note that these have substantial fees, typically $3-5 per card, that must be paid by the researcher's fund source)
  • Amazon’s mTurk (requires a prepaid account)
  • Cash (used only under special circumstances and in consultation with the Comptroller’s Office)
  • University check (only for payments over $25; vendor registration form must be completed for each participant)
  • Merchandise

Value of Incentive (University funded studies only)

When using University funds, the amount of the incentive determines the paperwork and handling required. (See University Funds section for additional details.)