Both are from Mashable.com. The first is titled " Are Social Media Giving Contests Good for Nonprofits? ", and the second is " Every Little Bit Can Help ".
Geoff Livingston co-founded Zoetica to focus on cause-related work, and released an award-winning book on new media in 2007.
Recent media coverage and Case Foundation America’s Giving Challenge research demonstrates that non-profits can hurt themselves by participating in too many online giving contests and challenges. Yet, given the extreme popularity of social media-driven online contests like Pepsi Refresh and others that innovate, non-profits can expect to see many more opportunities like this.
“We’ve seen the emergence of two quite different kinds of contests,” said Mayur Patel , Director of Strategic Assessment at the Knight Foundation. The first kind, he notes, offer “prizes and awards focused on supporting particular innovation and experimenting with new solutions to societal challenges, such as the Knight News Challenge or Apps for America.” The second kind offer “online fundraising contests, in which non-profits compete with each other to get the most votes in order to win a sum of money for their organization.”
Now that the sector has more experience, it’s time for non-profits to intelligently weigh the pluses and minuses of contests. Here’s an analysis of how online giving contests and challenges impact the sector.
Disclosure: My company Zoetica performed the America’s Giving Challenge research for the Case Foundation.
The obvious benefit of participating in contests and challenges is winning. But there are also negative aspects that can occur, especially if you lose — lost resources and community fatigue can be a problem. This is particularly true of giving contests that focus on crowd-driven popularity, and don’t offer matching grants or widespread consolation prizes.
“The downsides for non-profits entering contests that create a ‘who’s who’ popularity contest are obvious: Burn-out from campaigning, fear of or actually damaging the support base from asks (whether it’s vote, donate, or support), capacity (time, energy, resources) spent disproportionately to the return, and so on,” said Amy Sample Ward , global community development manager for NetSquared . NetSquared has hosted several innovation challenges over the past few years.
“It’s important to consider scalability and bandwidth to take on any additional tasks or responsibilities related to a contest or program — for any organization, non-profit or otherwise,” said Anamaria Irazabal, Marketing Director at Pepsi. “Organizations entering into these programs should clearly understand the staff time and resources needed to apply, campaign, and most importantly, oversee implementation of any added funding or other benefits of such a program.”
Instead of looking at contests and challenges as all-or-none opportunities, non-profits should also consider the intangibles. A complete picture shows opportunities to excite donor and volunteer bases with social media driven contests on national and even international stages.
“Philanthropic contests amplify voice, connect new audiences and break down traditional silos and barriers,” said Michael Smith, Vice President of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation. “The explosion of new interactive technologies combined with an increasing desire from social institutions to have genuine interactions and input from their constituents, have created the perfect storm and opportunity for philanthropic contests to take center stage. Innovative non-profits and causes now have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, allowing their voice to be heard by the mass public, influencers and social investors (big and small) alike.”
In the non-profit sector, it’s critical to have an actionable theory of change . This provides outcomes, results, and accomplishments that relate to a desired long-term goal, according to ActKnowledge . A theory of change can help the non-profit determine the value of the contest.
“We believe that the power lies in having a specific theory of change,” said Pepsi’s Anamaria Irazabal. “Through the Pepsi Refresh Project, we believe in enabling ideas that will make a difference. We want people across the country to use their voice, community and the Internet to promote good ideas, which can help them get the funding and the volunteers to make these good ideas a reality. We’re encouraging organizations and individuals to use their own theories of change to refresh America.”
“Contests almost by their nature don’t have a specific solution in mind that they are looking to fund and/or test,” said the Knight Foundation’s Mayur Patel. “All contests though, embody some form of agenda setting, regardless of whether they have an explicit ‘theory of change’ at work.
“For challenge prizes and awards, rather than online fundraising contests, the act of problem identification — of elevating a specific issue that you are encouraging innovation around — can be a targeted way of incentivizing and spurring problem solving,” Patel continued. “It gives people the constraints in which to work, and can build a constituency around a particular problem.”
For some reason, smaller non-profits seem to favor contests more than larger ones. Whether that’s based on sheer numbers or the way contests and challenges are built, smaller non-profits tend to be better suited to participate.
“I don’t think it’s that larger organizations are not willing to take risks, I think it’s a couple other key factors,” said the Case Foundation’s Michael Smith. “When you are a large non-profit with a large development staff that has a set calendar of events, mailings and five layers of organizational approvals you have to go through before you can send an e-mail out to supporters, it makes it very hard to compete in these types of competitions.
“Winning these competitions is all about giving up control,” added Smith. “An e-mail or two from a development director in Washington to a large mailing list will not guarantee success. Rather, you have to depend on a decentralized group of passionate supporters who are willing to tweet, DM, Facebook , e-mail, text and Skype a few hundred of their closest friends to get the viral ball rolling and make the personal connection that motivates people to take time from their day to help an organization win.”
Irazabal, Patel and Smith offered several tips for non-profits to consider when weighing a contest or challenge. Here is an amalgamated list of ten points to consider:
One by one, we can make a difference… that’s the goal of Members Project® from American Express and TakePart. Members Project provides opportunities for everyone, not just Cardmembers, to do their share to help deserving charities.
If you’re having reality TV withdrawal, get back into voting mode by rooting for a cause. Everyone (18 or older) can vote weekly via an online ballot to help decide which charities will receive funding from American Express. Every three months, five winning charities will share $1 million dollars in funding from American Express.
If you’re more of a doer looking for something to occupy your summer downtime, you can pick up lots of great volunteer ideas through Members Project®. Browse to see which causes you can donate time to, and get Membership Rewards® bonus points – up to 500 points per approved hour. You can redeem Membership Rewards points online at American Express or donate them to your favorite charities through Members Project.
Of course, funding is always needed to fuel charitable organizations and causes, so another easy way to contribute is through a donation. Members Project makes the process simple to donate a one-time gift or recurring gifts directly with your American Express® Card. Donations can be made to any of more than one million charities.
Finally, put your social media time to good use and share Members Project® to multiply your votes, volunteer efforts, or donations. Create an online community or like Members Project on Facebook.
Everyone can do their share with the help of Members Project from American Express and TakePart.
This post is presented by Members Project® from American Express and TakePart. Members Project is an online initiative that gives anyone the tools, information, and inspiration to find causes and organization they care about and give back on their own terms. Get involved at http://www.membersproject.com .