- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
The past several weeks, we shared what we had learned about the second round of America’s Giving Challenge, and in return you told us your thoughts about the findings and the Challenge. This is exactly what we envisioned for these “Conversational Case Studies.”
Thanks to everyone who participated! This last post summarizes some themes and insights we gleaned from the conversation.
The first post was about a small organization, Darius Goes West, that was a Giving Challenge winner because of relationship building the organization had done prior to the Challenge - a great story combined with smart and funny storytelling, primarily by video, and heartfelt thanking of volunteers and celebrations of their success.
The second post focused on Students for a Free Tibet. They ended up a winner in both the first and second rounds of the Challenge. That post explored their formula for success, which included a combination of social media savvy and careful vetting of their participation in this contest to assure the contest aligned with their strategic goals.
For the third post, we asked a question: Is there a special sauce for winning contests? Based on our analysis of the survey data of participants and the two previous case studies, we proffered that the special sauce might include:
- personal appeals
- spreading out the work
- the use of video storytelling, and
- on-land activities.
The first post, Darius Goes West, had the liveliest conversation in the comments, twenty-four of them in total! Our summary of the conversation that ensued on this blog, on our own blogs, and on Twitter is outlined below. Those conversations clustered around five themes:
- the advantages to small organizations in online contests
- the need to have joyous funerals by understanding and appreciating failures
- the importance of relationship building
- the intersection of community organizing and online fundraising, and
- how to decide whether to participate in a contest.
And we were also privileged to receive one great idea discussed below. So, what did we discuss and learn together?
The Advantages of Being Small
Commenters weighed in on the question of what made smaller organizations successful in online contests. Stacey Monk, the co-founder of Epic Change, provided a comprehensive list of the reasons that smaller organizations are successful in online contests that we summarize here:
- Proximity to Personality. People connect to people much more easily than they connect to organizations.
- Necessity. What we do have is social media - so we focus our resources & creativity there. Since social media is our primary channel, we have no other option but to make it good.
- Risk Tolerance. Small, upstart organizations might be a bit more comfortable with experimentation than larger organizations. Large organizations may feel a misstep could tarnish their brand somehow. Small organizations know mistakes are just part of the learning process, and it's great to do them early & often.
- Rapid Adaptation. Small organizations don't have layers of bureaucracy and approvals. If we have a strategy that's not working, we move to another one in a matter of minutes. We don't have to raise it up the chain of command for approval.
- Authenticity. Large organizations have a tendency to over-polish their social media efforts & they lose their humanity. That's not the case in Darius' videos. You know he's a real guy. The mistakes are edited in - not out - which may be precisely the opposite of what a larger nonprofit might do. In social media, authenticity always wins. And authenticity requires imperfection.
Holly Ross of NTEN wrote that small organizations can ably use social media to their benefit, however it comes with a steep cost for some: time.
Donna Arriaga summed up the benefits of smallness with this thought:
I think a factor which may give smaller organizations a foot forward in social media is their malleability and capacity for adjusting swiftly to change.
Mom’s Rising, an organization that is an expert in social media for social change, once shared the secret to their success: failure. In the video at the end of this post, Ashley Boyd explains how they give ideas or tactics that didn’t work “a joyful funeral” and from that much learning and insight comes.
Brian Reich pressed us to study failure as well as success to learn about how and why these contests work.
Beth responded in the comments (the reason that we called these posts Conversational!) that the issue of why groups didn’t do well had come up during the two assessments we’ve done of the Giving Challenge. She boiled them down into three categories: capacity to devote planning and implementation time to the contest, the lack of an existing and engaged network on Facebook coupled with a lack of personalized or compelling conversation starters, and a good vetting process for choosing which contests suit particular organizations.
Importance of Relationship Building Early
A pattern evident among the winners was the importance of relationship building prior to the contest. Allison Jones wrote:
Something else that stands out to me is the amount of work put in long before the American Giving Challenge started. They seemed to have built up quite a following on and offline beforehand which makes me wonder if these online contests are only good for organizations that already have an online presence (I've heard the argument that these competitions can get nonprofits more interested in social media and refining their online strategy, but I'm not so sure this is the case for truly beginners).
Regarding Darius specifically, Debra Askanase observed:
What struck me as critical was the year of cross-country relationship-building that gave the organization the broad base of support to call upon to win an online challenge. AND that they understand how to capitalize on those relationships through meaningful, continuous engagements.
Grassroots Organizing is Key
At the heart of all of these contests is the need for participants to act like grassroots organizers. An irony of life in the connected age is that success involves the same skill set that have made neighborhood organizers successful for years. Debra Askanase has a great post here on the intersection between social media fundraising and community organizing.
Maria Baldauf wrote:
The key in all of this is that people don't want to feel like their money just disappears somewhere in cyber space. They want to feel like whatever amount they are able to give has meaning, makes an impact or improves the world in some way.
Susan Gordon of Causes wrote:
My advice is to think about who your hard-core supporters are, think about what campaigns or stories they would most want to spread to their friends, and produce a grassroots campaign strategy that empowers those people to spread those stories. These lessons are true for challenges/contests but they are also true for any fundraising campaign, petition, or membership drive you're doing on any social media platform.
Strategic Contest Decision Making
The second blog post on Students for a Free Tibet focused on their strategic decision making in regards to participating in the contest. Beth rolled comments about that story into a post about the potential return on investment for contests. To summarize, contest participants need to think about:
- Whether and how the contest aligns with their values, mission and goals.
- Are there benefits beyond money for the participant? Specifically, will participation be meaningful, fun or engaging for their community?
- Whether one has a realistic change of being successful in the contest.
- Will the contest provide any long term benefits?
- Will participation add to or detract from potential donor fatigue?
- Will the contest build our social capital with our network or expend it?
And One Great Idea!
Great ideas generally come when they’re least expected. Logan Smalley of Darius Goes West shared a really terrific one:
For any app developers out there. Our organization, many more organizations, and even for-profit companies would find a cross-platform metric system extremely useful.
Again, our appreciation and gratitude for the people who participated in this conversation. The comments and insights were enormously helpful. We look forward to sharing our final thoughts on the second round of the Giving Challenge in a few weeks.
Guest blogger Allison Fine is a writer and activist dedicated to understanding and enhancing efforts to use new, social media tools for social change.