What makes non-cash awards better for incentive programs?

Non-cash awards have several advantages over cold, hard currency in the modern incentive program. Here are six reasons to consider using merchandise or gift cards as your next motivational reward:

1. Evaluability

When properly presented, non-cash awards ignite the imagination in a way that enhances their perceived value. The participant’s reaction to the award substitutes for its actual value. Think back on all the times you have received cash as a gift. Now try to remember the occasion, or even who gave it to you. Chances are there were a handful of gifts that held higher value to you than their quickly-forgotten cash equivalent.

2. Separability

Cash creates entitlement. Cash invariably turns the extra reward into something to be expected later on; you can give it, but you can never take it away. Non-cash awards deliver more recognition because they don’t get mixed with compensation. They can be turned on and off without anyone’s expectations not being met.

3. Justifiability

Participants receive special satisfaction from non-cash awards because there’s no guilt associated with spending them. Essentially, recognizing the difference between redeeming 25,000 ‘points’ to use on a 75″ 4k TV versus having $2,500 in cash that could go to a college fund or paying off bills. Which award do you think gets remembered during the next sales kickoff?

4. Social Reinforcement

People feel free to talk about non-cash rewards in a way that would be inappropriate for cash compensation. It’s socially unacceptable to brag about your bonus or commissions, but others are intrigued about how you won an incentive trip to Maui. Non-cash prizes provide a tangible symbol of achievement that can be recognized by all.

5. Memorable

Surveys show that merchandise and travel rewards are remembered longer than cash, with a longer-lasting boost in performance. They provide a lasting reminder of success and reinforce a positive association with the sponsoring company. For example, try to remember an employee reward trip or merchandise you won. Now, do you remember that amount of your bonus that year?

6. Promotable

Cash is difficult to promote – unless you keep increasing the amount. A trip to Monaco, a new HD TV, the latest iPad, or big diamonds, create a visual interest that engages participants’ brains. In essence, they see the reward, they want the reward, and they consider how they can improve their performance to earn it. It doesn’t hurt that this creates a buzz factor between employees when they talk about what prizes they’re going after.


There is more to it than just not using cash. Choosing the right types of awards for your audience and knowing how long to keep a program running are necessary to properly motivating your team. You can find all of the details in these 5 Keys to Selecting Motivational Rewards.

Mike May

Author Mike May

President | Author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. Expertise: bucket-list incentive trips, motivational incentive program design, matching event goals with the perfect destination & hotel, cost savings strategies, global channel reward programs, and targeted communications.

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