Participant Su​pport Costs and Incentives for Social Science Research

Participant Support Costs Are Generally Allowed

Participant support costs, which includes stipends, are allowable for some social science research funded by NIJ.

Participant support costs may include direct costs for items such as subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with the proposed research study.

With approval, as described further below, grantees may provide stipends to research study participants to cover the cost of their transportation, gas, and other incidentals (excluding food and beverages) to offset basic costs. A stipend, which can be in the form of cash, is not a salary, honorarium, incentive, or fee.

Grantees must have a disbursement policy and a tracking system in place before they can disburse participant support costs and should include this information, if available, in their NIJ application. Grantees must have approval from NIJ to offer participant support costs, and the costs must be aligned with the DOJ Financial Guide.

Incentives Are Allowed With Appropriate Justification

Although incentives are typically considered gifts and thus often unallowable, under specific circumstances, NIJ may approve the use of incentives, provided the incentive and amount proposed meet the definition of reasonable. If the applicant feels incentives are critical to the integrity of the study, the applicant must provide the appropriate justification documentation with their application by answering the questions noted below. These responses will be reviewed by NIJ; and, before an application is awarded, incentives must receive approval from NIJ Leadership.

Applicants who propose the use of incentives or stipends must answer the following seven questions. NIJ recommends that the answers be provided in the application's appendix or attachment. Note that proposals to utilize incentives with vulnerable populations (children, pregnant women, and prisoners) may be given particular scrutiny to ensure adequate protections against potential coercion.

  • What is the total amount of the stipend/ incentive?  Also show the breakdown by tasks if multiple payments are involved (e.g., several interviews/surveys over time)?
    What is the age of all participants receiving stipends/incentives (in particular, if students/youths are involved)?
  • Explain in detail what specific form the incentives will take (please note that food, beverages, raffles, entertainment and lotteries are not allowed in any form)
  • Discuss how you will eliminate or minimize the appearance of coercion rather than voluntary participation for study subjects.
  • Provide justification demonstrating that the amount of compensation is reasonable/nominal.
  • What specific evidence leads you to believe that participation is unlikely without incentives? 
  • What is the estimated impact if incentives were not used?
  • How will incentives be distributed and tracked?

If proposed, stipends must reflect the time and effort of participation, and be directly related to the costs of participation. Similarly, if proposed, incentives must be modest so as to not be out of proportion to time and effort involved in the study.

​Incentives and stipends in all ​forms (gift card, charitable donation, check, cash, money order, etc.) are considered cash for audit purposes. The following are all considered unallowable costs, and approval will not be granted:​​​

  • All food and beverage.
  • Raffles.
  • Lotteries.
  • Costs of entertainment, including amusement, diversion and social activities and any costs directly associated with such costs (such as tickets to a sporting event).

Please note: In studies where data collection is administered in school-based settings, incentives for students will receive particular scrutiny.


For questions related to participant support costs, please contact the point of contact listed on the funding opportunity of interest, or NIJ's Director of the Office of Research and Evaluation, Dr. Seri Irazola, at Seri.Irazola@ojp.usdoj.gov or (202) 616-0685.

Date Modified: April 18, 2016