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Research Incentives: Cash and Gift Cards

Updated: May 13, 2024


Certain research projects involve human subjects. Any payments made to human subjects as an incentive to participate in research should follow this process. Please also note that your proposed method of providing incentives to research participants, and any necessary procedures to accommodate the requirements below, must be outlined and approved by the NC State Institutional Review Board (IRB).

General Guidance

  • Refer to this page each time you start a new study because processes can change.
  • Researchers must have IRB approval of the specific research protocol for which research incentives will be provided before payments may be arranged or gift cards are purchased.
  • Payment for research incentives can never be charged to state-appropriated funds. If funding authority allows, payments may be charged to F&A, ledger 5, ledger 6 and ledger 7 accounts.
  • University P-Cards and Marketplace may not be used for this process, per College policy.
  • Payments to NC State employees may be taxable. This may have implications for tracking participants that may need to be discussed with the IRB.
  • Incentives can be in the form of cash or gift card.
  • For gift cards, researcher may request a cash advance to purchase or may use personal funds and seek reimbursement. Reimbursements will be allowed for reasonable and customary payment amounts.
  • Review Accounts Payable Documentation Requirements


Contact Missy Thomas in our college research office.

NC State Employees

You must collect a Non-Salary Compensation form for any subject who is also an NC State EHRA employee per Reg 05.15.03. Complete the top-half of the form, as depicted in the image below.

On page two of the form, select “All Other Non-Salary Compensation” radio button and enter amount (no signatures required). 

Attach the Non-Salary Compensation forms to your Cash Advance Reconciliation package or your reimbursement request. 

Cash Advances

Per college policy, cash advances can be no more than $4,000 and cannot be requested for more than three months. If additional time is needed to run your study, a new cash advance request can be submitted with your reconciliation.  We recommend that you only request the amount you can reasonably use within the three-month period. As a reminder, the custodian is personally responsible for the funds and will have to repay the university if lost or stolen. Also note that cash advances can only be given to NC State faculty, not students.

Step 1: Request the cash advance

Step 2: Run study

  • Researcher must get signatures from all recipients using the Receipt Record.  Remember to describe this process in your human subjects protocol that you submit to the IRB. Requiring signatures may have implications for subject confidentiality, so carefully consider these implications in your study design.
  • If the IRB determines that names may not be shared, the researcher must get a memo from the IRB and provide to the college research office (Missy Thomas).

Step 3: Reconcile the cash advance

Reimbursement Requests

Frequently Asked Questions

Do we collect personal information of payment recipients?

When one or more payments totaling $600 or more are made to the same person in a calendar year, the researcher must collect a Form W-9 and submit to the college research office (Missy Thomas). Note that NC State will issue a Form 1099 to anyone who is paid $600 or more. However, the 1099 will not indicate that the recipient was a research subject.

Can I hold a drawing?

Random drawings may be allowable with IRB approval. Do not use the terms “lottery” or “raffle” as these terms suggest you pay into an opportunity for a larger payout. A random drawing requires no money from the recipient.

How much can I pay as an incentive?

Incentive payments should be reasonable and customary; should not be so large as to be coercive; and should be based in sound and defensible research practices.

Additional Resources