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Feature Story

August 2018

IRF Study Reveals Difficulties for Program Owners

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A recent in-depth study by the Incentive Research Foundation revealed that, although 84 percent of businesses now use non-cash awards, the absence of industry-related college curriculum, no widely accepted standards and difficulty with specific Internet search terms means program owners are typically left to seek out a patchwork of internal networks and external partnerships to learn how to develop successful programs.

"Once program managers engage with individuals and organizations specialized in incentives and recognition, they place a high value on the education and networking resources they receive," said Melissa Van Dyke, IRF president. "Voice of the Market, Part 2, tells us loud and clear that as an industry, we need to do a better job of more readily supporting program managers on the front lines running these programs."

In "Voice of the Market, Part 2: Engaging Program Owners in the Incentives Marketplace," the IRF conducted in-depth interviews with 50 program owners representing a wide range of non-cash rewards programs to understand how they learn about and engage in the incentives industry. These end users spent anywhere from $25,000 to millions of dollars annually on programs that included travel, award points, merchandise, gift cards and/or branded items. There was a broad range of program complexity, industry awareness, vendor reliance and experience managing incentives.

Incentives and recognition professionals reported a lack of industry awareness from the beginning of their involvement in the incentives and recognition field. They described a happenstance introduction to the field and the challenge of finding resources to learn the profession and support their programs.

Some of the study's other key findings include:

  • For program owners, a lack of awareness of industry resources is the primary barrier to accessing valuable information and expertise.
  • Once program owners engage with individuals and organizations specialized in incentives and recognition, they place a high value on the education and networking resources they receive there.
  • As it is not universally included in standard university curricula, none of the respondents had taken coursework or certification prior to working on programs for several years.
  • Learning was done on the job in conjunction with internal and external partners.
  • Resources are hard to find on the Internet since new program owners do not know what industry-specific search terms to use. General searches return too much information.
  • Networking is a critical and valued source of learning for program owners.

"This report highlights again why the IRF is committed to bringing more curriculum to universities, establishing standards, expanding our benchmarking work and growing peer-to-peer communities," Van Dyke said.

Learn more about the study at