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TANF "Leavers", Applicants, and Caseload Studies: Tips and Tricks: Raising Response Rates on Surveys of Welfare Leavers

Make It Easy — Convenience Is Everything!

Making it easy and convenient for individuals to participate in a survey is critical to survey success. Some helpful techniques include:

  • Have a toll-free project hotline that survey participants can contact to complete a survey interview, schedule an interview (telephone or in-person), or update contact information. Having the respondent contact you is an effective tool for working with difficult-to-interview populations and is a cost-effective approach to completing survey interviews.
  • Use postage-paid postcards with spaces for survey participants to update contact information and schedule an interview. This is especially useful when identifying and working with participants who do not have a telephone in their household, have recently moved, or would like to be contacted for an interview somewhere other than their home.
  • Offer incentives for survey participation. Incentives may include items such as gift certificates at local restaurants or fun places visited by families with children, a lottery for a larger prize, pre-paid telephone calling cards, or cash in the form of a postal money order.
  • Combine survey modes such as telephone, in-person, and mail surveys. Telephone interviews followed by in-person survey attempts for nonrespondents and mail surveys with a telephone follow-up make it easier for individuals to overcome barriers to participation such as busy work schedules or living in a household without a telephone.
  • If you are conducting a telephone or in-person survey, offer flexible hours for participants to complete an interview. Many participants have tight work schedules and competing demands for their time. Limiting when they can complete a survey may make it impossible for them to participate.
  • Allow survey participants to schedule an interview with a telephone or in-person interviewer ahead of time. In your correspondence with survey participants, announce hours that telephone interviews are available and the option to schedule in-person interviews if participants cannot complete a survey over the telephone.
  • Hold periodic survey open houses at central interviewing sites (i.e. library, school, or social service office) where survey participants can come to complete an in-person interview. Offering childcare during the interview, transportation reimbursements, and an increased incentive payment for completing an interview at the open house may attract individuals who are typically difficult to interview by telephone.


Tracking and Locating Welfare Leavers for Follow Up Surveys

Locating former welfare recipients for a survey interview months or even years after they have stopped receiving assistance is a challenging task. Two possible strategies for overcoming these challenges and successfully achieving high response rates on welfare leavers surveys include:

  1. Maintaining up-to-date contact information for survey participants during the interim period between case closure and the follow-up survey.
  2. Using multiple methods to locate survey participants for whom contact information on file has become outdated.


  1. Tracking Welfare Leavers:  Be Proactive!

    Putting systems and strategies in place that track individuals and maintain up-to-date contact information between case closure and the follow-up survey significantly reduces the number of individuals who require intensive and costly efforts to locate when the survey is administered. Interim tracking strategies include:

    • Collecting Contact Information Early
      If you are planning a follow-up survey in the future, collect information that will help you locate survey participants while their cases are still open or immediately following case closure using a brief point-of-closing survey. The point-of-closing survey can also be used to ask several baseline questions that may be compared with data collected in future follow-up surveys.
    • Maintaining Contact
      Tracking mailings with survey participants during the interim period between case closure and the follow-up survey can improve survey participation by:
      1. Generating respondent awareness and understanding of the project;
      2. Providing respondents with an opportunity to update contact information with researchers using techniques such as postage-paid postcards or a toll-free hotline; and
      3. Identifying respondents for whom existing contact information is invalid so that efforts can be made to locate an individual “while the trail is still fresh.”


  2. Locating Welfare Leavers — Resources

    While respondent location efforts can range from simple searches using telephone and Internet directory assistance to contracting with national credit bureaus for an intensive national search, it is important to develop a systematic approach to locating survey participants that is specified prior to data collection. Having an approach in place provides a framework for evaluating cases and allows data collectors to respond quickly to tracking needs. The following are a few easy and cost-effective respondent location techniques that may be incorporated into a tracking approach:

    • Check other electronic information sources such as Medicaid, food stamps, and motor vehicles records for updated contact information. Also, check your cash assistance files to see if the individual or a member of their family group has returned to assistance and a new address or telephone number is on file. Have telephone and field interviewers check all available addresses.
    • Go back to past addresses and telephone numbers in case files. These addresses and telephone numbers often belong to relatives and friends with whom individuals lived, used to forward mail or as a message phone. Again, have interviewers carefully follow up with these possible leads.
    • Start tracking lost respondents at the first contact attempt. Waiting until you have a response rate problem and then tracking “lost” survey participants adds time and effort to survey administration. Plan ahead to begin tracking when you first determine that your contact information for an individual is invalid. Train your telephone interviewers to be your “first-response trackers” and have them conduct preliminary tracking activities such as probing individuals they reach on the phone for leads, contacting secondary sources (i.e. friends and relatives), and searching telephone and Internet directories.
    • Invest in a national household directory on CD-ROM. National household directories in CD-ROM format are an effective tool for locating survey participants as well as individuals who may know participants’ whereabouts (i.e. neighbors or relatives). These directories are relatively inexpensive and can be searched by last name, address, or phone number. Some directories also have a helpful linking feature that connects addresses with valid telephone numbers and vice versa.
    • Have the Postal Service and express mail companies help you. By labeling envelopes mailed to survey participants “address correction requested,” the Postal Service will return new address information on file to the sender (for a nominal fee). Often, change-of-address information is invisible to the sender since the mail is automatically forwarded, or is on file but the forwarding order has expired. Couriers from express mail companies, such as Federal Express, will also hand verify address information and update you with any changes.